The suit, filed on Tuesday in US District Court in Los Angeles, 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 naturalisation after filing applications at the US Citizenship and Immigration Service in Los Angeles.

Since the September 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 country in recent years.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that "whether the delays are based on discrimination or incompetence, they have to end." 

CAIR has joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California to file the suit.

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

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

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

Hussam Ayloush,
Executive director, Southern California chapter of CAIR

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

Special Agent Richard Kolko said the FBI had not seen the suit and could not comment.

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, a Corona resident who immigrated from 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."