ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) — An Iraqi couple whose extended family worked as translators for the U.S. Army sued the United States on Wednesday, for refusing to rule on their request for political asylum nearly three years after they completed the process.
Bushra Mohammad Salman Al-Mula and her husband fear they could be tortured or killed if they are forced to return to Iraq. Both of them “served in various official capacities for the Iraqi government and [their] extended family served as translators and advisers for the United States government and military in Iraq,” they say in the federal complaint against the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and its Arlington, Va. office.
Their asylum application for themselves and their two young children has been pending since early April 2014.
Al-Mula says in the complaint that she explained her family’s dire situation in their May 2014 interview at the Arlington asylum office. The interview is the last step in the application for political asylum, through the immigration system.
She told her interviewer that she and her family have “a reasonable fear of persecution based upon their religion, political opinion and membership in a particular social group of Iraqis”: those who supported the U.S. military and the post-Saddam Hussein government there.
Assisted by counsel, Al-Mula also told her interviewer that her family is entitled to protection under terms of the international Convention Against Torture.
Then came a “year of silence,” she says.
The United States stoutly resists granting political asylum to citizens of U.S. allies, as it would be politically inconvenient to acknowledge that an ally tortures and kills its own people. Numerous immigration attorneys have said that if an immigration office or court receives clear and convincing evidence that a citizen of a U.S. ally faces threats and persecution in his or her homeland, immigration officials simply sit on the case and refuse to rule.
That’s what’s happened to her family, Al-Mula says.
After a year’s silence, she and her attorney asked a Citizenship and Immigration Services ombudsman for assistance in getting her claim adjudicated.
That went on for another year and a half.
Finally, she says in the complaint, the immigration service told her to resend affidavits she had filed with her asylum application, because they had been lost.
She did resend them, she says, and that’s the last she’s heard about it.
Al-Mula says it is “particularly troubling” to be left in limbo, because “nearly every single other member of the Al-Mula family has each received special immigrant visas, permanent residency, or asylum without issue and in very rapid time.”
One of her brothers arrived in the United States with his family in 2007 on an immigrant visa. They have become citizens. Another brother came to the United States in October 2009, applied for asylum at the same office she did, and was approved within a month.
Her husband’s brother fled Iraq to Egypt and applied for resettlement status as a refugee in 2008. He arrived in the United States the next year and has become a U.S. citizen and is attending dental school.
Finally, Al-Mula’s parents applied for U.S. residency in 2014, and were granted it in 2015.
Only Al-Mula, her husband and children have been left hanging.
Immigration officials say they cannot discuss specific cases for privacy concerns.
Al-Mula is represented by John McDermott in Arlington. She asks the court to order the immigration office to rule on her application.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.