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Class Settlement Clears Way for|Legal Immigrants to Get Citizenship

(CN) - After years of delay, hundreds of legal immigrants in Southern California moved a step closer to U.S. citizenship after reaching a settlement that set a 6-month deadline for the government to decide on their applications.

The class action settlement will affect only applicants in parts of Southern California. The Bush administration policy - never officially announced - essentially stopped naturalization for tens of thousands of legal immigrants.

One political asylee from El Salvador who sought U.S. citizenship says immigration officials seized his green card years ago, told him, "They're not accepting anything; it's the new policy," and left him in limbo, with no documents to prove his legal status.

The asylee was thrown in jail and had to pay bail and spend $10,000 on attorney's fees in a case that dragged on for years. After the government's repeated requests for continuances, when the case finally reached a judge it was dismissed because the man had never been charged with anything, according to the man's attorney.

Three Southern California-based immigrants' rights groups and a private law office - the National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and Munger, Tolles & Olson - sued the federal government in 2007 to try to clear the black hole into which tens of thousands of immigrants had been tossed.

After Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration effectively stopped processing applications for adjustment of status. Legal immigrants' applications were put on hold, ostensibly for "FBI name checks," but the FBI was busy elsewhere. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services instituted the "name checks" in 2002.

The settlement requires the USCIS to adjudicate hundreds of applications from Los Angeles, Santa Ana and San Bernardino areas within 6 months, and show data to the civil rights group to prove that the black hole is not turned on again.

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