Anti-Muslim bias is higher than ever, an Islamic civil rights group said yesterday, based on figures showing a 25 percent increase in complaints during 2006.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations cited 2,467 complaints in 2006, up from 1,972 complaints in 2005, primarily about delays in citizenship and naturalization requests. Many Muslims who have taken citizenship exams, CAIR said, have to wait far longer than the 120 days mandated by federal law for their naturalization background checks.
"Instead of 120 days, it's taking five years," said Nihad Awad, CAIR's executive director. "If the government has to take five years for security measures, that's a major blow for our people."
Muslims aren't the only immigrants affected, said CAIR legal director Arsalan Iftikhar, but "there is a disparate impact on people from Muslim and Arab nations who are affected by this."
The long waits make it difficult for immigrants to travel abroad and apply for government jobs, such as language interpretation.
Muslims across the country have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the Federal Bureau of Investigation, claiming the agency is unnecessarily delaying completion of their background checks. Most of the 62,000 names sent to the FBI each week — half of which are for citizenship requests — do not trigger alarms. Of those that do, the FBI must cross-check the names against additional databases, a process that can take years.
In February, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit in California against the federal government, saying "its practice of indefinitely delaying citizen applications" violated due process rights.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service was heavily criticized when post-September 11 investigations found lax enforcement had allowed the hijackers to remain in the country, some on expired visas. Since then, federal agents have been given many more databases to check before they approve a citizenship request.
"We work extremely hard to process more than 7 million requests for applications and petitions for immigration services a year," said spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which took over many INS functions since the Homeland Security Department's founding.
"We do this as quickly as we can with fairness, respect, dignity and courtesy to all who seek our services. We do not in any way, shape or form look at anyone's ethnicity to determine their criteria," she said.
The agency now is calling in people whose background checks came back clean in October. Once they clear the interview process and pass the citizenship test, she said, they can become citizens.
CAIR's latest study, "Presumption of Guilt," also said it received 167 reports of anti-Muslim hate crime complaints, a 9.2 percent increase from 153 complaints received in 2005. Eighty-one percent of those complaints came from 10 jurisdictions: California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, New York, Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and the District.