Judge Approves Settlement in Case that Spurred Government to Speed up Naturalization Process

For immediate release: Sept. 23, 2010

Contact: John Garcia (212) 739-7513 or 917-673-9095

The U.S. government agreed to resolve within four months at least 90 percent of the naturalization applications awaiting a final disposition after their interview as part of a settlement with a group of 6 Latinos who sued to force the government to speed up their work in getting people naturalized.

The Latinos, represented by a coalition led by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, challenged the multi-year delays that were depriving hundreds of thousands of Latinos and other immigrants of their right to be naturalized and their right to vote.

Immediately following the filing of the case in 2008, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) began taking steps to dramatically speed up the naturalization process such that tens of thousands of applicants in the New York region were able to vote last November. Most of the remaining applicants will receive a final decision within the next six months.

The USCIS will spend $7.8 million in 2010 to support expanded citizenship education programs for legal permanent residents.

“We were stunned to find out that hundreds of thousands of Latino and other immigrants across the country were being denied the right to vote because of bureaucratic delays,” said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The right to vote is so critical to our political system that we knew we had to find a way to get rid of those horrific delays.”

Throughout the litigation process, the government had enacted a number of measures to accelerate the naturalization process. Soon after PRLDEF brought its suit, USCIS announced it would be speeding up the naturalization adjudication process to an average of 13-15 months, down from 14-18 months. Soon after, the government announced another change in policy: a joint plan to eliminate the backlog of name checks pending with the F.B.I. by 2009. Staff and resources were expanded and a goal was set to complete 98% of all name checks within 30 days.

The settlement in Milanes v. Holder provides that 90% of the applications still waiting to be decided after an interview would be resolved within four months of the settlement. If not, the plaintiffs would be able to return to court to seek a remedy from the judge, Judge Lawrence McKenna, who had initially ruled against them on the merits of their claims.

Plaintiffs won an appeal of a limited part of that decision in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that resulted in the case being referred back to Judge McKenna to determine whether plaintiffs were entitled to represent the class of denied applicants.

At that point, both the government and the plaintiffs decided to resolve the case amicably.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF was joined in representing the plaintiffs by the New York Legal Assistance Group and the firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges.

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