updated 8/2/2006 3:07:41 AM ET 2006-08-02T07:07:41

Ten Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants sued the government Tuesday for allegedly letting their U.S. citizenship applications linger indefinitely by delaying background checks.

Filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the suit asks that a federal judge review the files and administer the oath of citizenship.

It also seeks class-action status to include all immigrants who have been waiting at least six months for naturalization after filing applications at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in Los Angeles.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Muslims and immigrants from the Middle East and Asia have often complained of unexplained delays in the processing of immigration applications. The Southern California suit follows a handful of others across the U.S. in recent years.

"Whether the delays are based on discrimination or incompetence, they have to end," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed the suit.

"Muslims will not accept any longer being treated as second-class citizens by this administration."

Legal limits exceeded
Sharon Rummery, spokeswoman for the Citizenship and Immigration Service, said only about 1 percent of citizenship applicants wait longer than six months.

"I have no idea why some take longer," said Rummery, who added her agency cannot process an application until the FBI returns the background check.

Calls to FBI officials Tuesday seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Generally, legal permanent residents, or "green card" holders, can apply for citizenship if they have lived in the country a certain number of years, speak English fluently and pass a citizenship exam.

Federal law requires the government to approve or deny a citizenship application 120 days after an immigrant passes the exam.

It is taking a lot longer than that for Yousuf Bhaghani, 35, who left Pakistan 17 years ago. Bhaghani said he passed the citizenship exam in 2002, and has been waiting for an answer ever since.

"In my heart, I'm already an American in every way," said Bhaghani. "Now I want to be able to fully participate as a citizen."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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