DHS, USCIS, AND FBI DISCUSS CITIZENSHIP DELAY AT MOSQUE FOUNDATION
May 18, 2006
CAIR-Chicago hosted a panel of US government representatives last Thursday at the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview in order to explore the reasons behind the widespread delay in Citizenship Applications for members of the Muslim community.
The panel included DHS Community Liaison Carol Hallstrom, Acting District Director of USCIS Jerry Heinauer, and representatives from the FBI as well as Mosque Foundation Associate Director Sheikh Kifah Mostafa and CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab who presided over the program.
Maaria Mozaffar with CAIR-Chicago's Civil Rights department collected and read out questions from the floor, pressing the panel for clarifications and elaborations. CAIR-Chicago's staff attorney Heena Musabji and CAIR-Chicago's communications coordinator, Sultan Muhammad, were also in attendance.
Approximately 100 people attentively listened as the DHS representatives explained some of the reasons behind the delays in processing applications for citizenship. An honest open discussion took place in which members of the community questioned why they were being targeted and waiting for over two years for citizenship. One individual asked:
“Why are we being treated like criminals? We are law abiding Muslims. Why are we having to wait this long.” The representatives responded by assuring that the process is not anti- Muslim; it is bureaucracy that slows down the process.
In response to this claim, the representatives from DHS were questioned on what specific internal reforms were taking place to make the process more efficient and customer friendly. The audience was informed that currently an increase in staff is taking place to handle the large volume of citizenship applications. The representatives explained what USCIS and the FBI can and cannot do in terms of these delays.
Inquiry forms were available on-hand for anyone who wished to file an inquiry on their case. All members on the panel stayed well after the event answering questions for audience members in an effort to clarify polices and alleviate frustration. Many individuals took advantage of this rare opportunity and questioned members on the panel about their specific cases and shared their concerns regarding the entire citizenship process. Intake was also performed on-site for members of the community who wished to address their experience of citizenship delay through CAIR-Chicago’s Citizenship Delay Project.
Of note is a class action lawsuit filed by CAIR-Chicago, the Midwest Immigrant and Human Rights Center (MIHRC), and Competition Law Groups earlier this month. The class action is first of its kind, as it directly asks the DHS and CIS to be held accountable for the numerous delays of citizenship applications submitted by Muslim individuals.
Link to event information here
CITIZENSHIP DELAY: HEAR ABOUT THE ISSUE FROM GOVERNMENT REPRESENTATIVES
Acting District Director of the Chicago Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Community Liaison for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Federal Agents (TBA)
Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI)
Executive Director, CAIR-Chicago
Moderator / Civil Rights Coordinator, CAIR-Chicago When: Thursday, May 18th, 6:30pm – 8pm
Where: Mosque Foundation
7360 W 93rd Street
Bridgeview, Illinois 60455
Representatives from DHS will explain some of the reasons behind the delays in processing applications for citizenship. They will explain what USCIS and the FBI can and cannot do in terms of these delays. Although they will not be able to answer questions about specific cases, they will have inquiry forms on-hand for anyone who wishes to file an inquiry on their case. Questions will be written out by members of the audience, and a mediator will read them out to the speakers.
Intake will be performed on-site for members of the community who wish to discuss their experience of citizenship delay to see how we can help.
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
As he walked through the doors at the Islamic Center of Des Plaines, Vern Geurkink couldn’t help but marvel at the austerity of the modern-looking mosque.
A retired Christian minister now living in Naperville, Geurkink has been inside dozens of churches and even some synagogues over the years, but this was like no worship space he had ever seen.
“I thought to myself, where are all the books? Where are all the paintings and icons?” he said. “It was different, but a wonderfully eye-opening experience for me.”
Geurkink was one of about 60 seniors — many of them from the suburbs — who visited the mosque Wednesday during the latest in a series of daylong educational programs sponsored by the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In addition to the tour, they also observed the mosque’s afternoon prayer ritual, dined on an Egyptian lunch and listened to a brief lecture about the Koran and the five pillars of the faith.
Later, they partook in an hourlong question-and-answer session aimed at debunking myths about the faith, which counts more than 1.4 billion followers worldwide.
One woman, Lorene Watson of Des Plaines, wanted to know more about the hijab, the style of dress preferred by some Muslim women that requires the covering of the head, arms and legs.
“A lot of people ask me if I’m forced to wear this by my father, but that’s not the case,” said Sumiah Aduib, a young Muslim woman who answered Watson’s question. “It was my own decision. I took it on, and I felt like it completed me as a person.”
While many said they were inspired to attend because of a simple devotion to lifelong learning, others pointed to the war in Iraq and ongoing Christian-Muslim conflicts around the world as the reason for their interest in Islam.
One woman said she feels Islam is unfairly portrayed in the American media, which she said focuses on a minority of extremists while ignoring millions of Muslims whose core beliefs mirror Christianity’s Golden Rule.
Ahmed Rehab, who coordinates the program, said Muslims themselves are partly to blame for that phenomenon.
“The American media isn’t inherently anti-Muslim, it just hasn’t dealt with us for long enough.” he said. “Since 9/11, we’ve sort of been shocked into opening up more and I think there’s been a greater understanding.”
Although more than 1,200 people have participated in the outreach program during the past two years, Rehab said he hopes to expand it even more, perhaps by welcoming school field trips.
“There is a huge disconnect between what these people have seen today and to what most people see on TV or in the newspapers,” Rehab said. “We American Muslims need to be more outspoken so more people will understand who we really are.”
Press Release to Media
ROYAL EMBASSY OF SAUDI ARABIA
601 NEW HAMPSHIRE AVENUE, N.W.
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20037
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Citizenship Delay Project - Religious Discrimination Delays Citizenship Process:
As a joint effort with the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), CAIR-Chicago is asking individuals who passed a citizenship examination and have been waiting for over 90 days, or have been waiting for a Green Card for permanent residence for over 90 days to contact us at either email@example.com
Travel Free Project - Muslim Americans Detained and Questioned When Traveling Outside of the U.S.:
As part of a potential class action law suit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and CAIR-Chicago is asking anyone who has been detained and questioned on return to the US at any border crossing (land or airport) to please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Religious Discrimination at Standardized Testing Centers:
As part of a potential class action law suit, CAIR-Chicago is asking for anyone who has experienced any form of religious discrimination at a testing center to please contact us at email@example.com. An example of a possible form of religious discrimination includes requiring or requesting the removal of a headscarf for searches, or discriminatory remarks made by employees about Muslims or Islam.
The facts of the above case are as follows:
A Muslim student was asked to remove her headscarf on two separate occasions at a testing center before she began a standardized test required for graduate school. The supervisor and employees of the testing center refused to show her a written copy of the policy requiring Muslim women wearing a headscarf to be searched. A witness at the testing center also observed the employees making discriminatory remarks about Muslims while the victim was taking the test.
Please let us know if you or someone you know have experienced a similar incident and would like to take action to prevent such forms of religious discrimination at standardized testing centers in the future.
CAIR-Chicago Welcomes Three New Activists to the Team
George Tobin is a sophomore at Loyola University Chicago, where he is pursuing a degree in Poltical Science and a degree in Communications. George joined CAIR-Chicago as a Governmental Relations Intern due to his interests in diversity and government, and hopes to use this opportunity to gain immersion experience in a possible career path for the future. He plays Ultimate Frisbee, reads, and enjoys spending time with his family and friends.
Musab Siddiqui joins CAIR-Chicago as a summer intern in the Communications Department. Musab is currently finishing off his senior year at North Shore Country Day High School. He will start film school at Claremont-mcKenna College in California this fall. His interests include football, surfing and drama; he is currently acting in Romeo and Juliette. He was drawn to CAIR-Chicago because "it promises to stretch my mind."
Laura Etheredge has joined CAIR-Chicago as a Communications Department Intern. Laura is a MA candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago. She graduated in 2005 from McGill University in Montreal with an Honors degree in Middle Eastern Studies where she also served as an editor for the annual MESSA (Middle Eastern Studies Students' Association) journal. Laura is a self-taught artist with an interest in utilizing the universal nature of artistic vocabulary to communicate and exchange cultural material, and has presented in several shows over the years. Her MA thesis will be a translation and illustration of a piece of Arabic literature for children to promote positive cultural expression and encourage culture-based questions and interest.
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