The following media release was shared on Thursday by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the National Immigration Litigation Alliance:
PHILADELPHIA — Applicants for U.S. citizenship who could not take the oath of allegiance to complete the last step of the citizenship process for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic filed a lawsuit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania yesterday. The suit asks the federal court to provide them with the ability to immediately take the oath. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Plaintiffs and a proposed class covering hundreds of individuals in the region. Similar delays have occurred throughout the country creating a backlog of thousands who remain waiting to be sworn in as U.S. citizens. The lawsuit was filed by the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), National Immigration Litigation Alliance (NILA), the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, and Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing, Feinberg & Lin LLP.
Plaintiffs are lawful permanent residents whose applications for naturalization have been approved by the Philadelphia Field Office of U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services (USCIS) and who either had their oath ceremony canceled or not scheduled due to the outbreak of COVID-19. Plaintiffs do not challenge the necessity of canceling and postponing the oath ceremonies to safeguard against unwarranted exposure to COVID-19. However, they request that the court utilize an existing law enacted by Congress to address unique circumstances, such as a pandemic, by providing either judicial oath ceremonies or immediate administrative naturalization by USCIS. The statute at issue provides for an expedited process in cases involving special circumstances. Plaintiffs ask the Court to provide an expedited process to all class members so that they will be sworn in as U.S. citizens by late September, to ensure that they have time to register to vote in the fall elections.
“There has been so much negative fallout from the pandemic, including delaying the rights of citizenship to hundreds of lawful permanent residents in the Philadelphia area, every one of whom has already had their application approved, but now have been unable to complete the oath—the last step of the citizenship process,” said Matt Adams, Legal Director for NWIRP. “Fortunately, Congress provided a tool for rare situations like this to allow the federal court to provide expedited oath ceremonies or to instruct USCIS to provide immediate administrative naturalizations.”
“U.S. citizenship confers fundamental rights, including the rights to vote, to petition for family members to immigrate, and to access certain public programs and benefits,” said Trina Realmuto, Executive Director of NILA. “This lawsuit asks the Court to order USCIS to prioritize conducting oath ceremonies, which had been stalled since mid-March, so that Plaintiffs and proposed class members are not unduly and indefinitely denied these important rights.”