District Court Finds Plaintiff Eligible for Naturalization, Orders Government to Comply with FOIA

We really enjoy seeing cases where individuals who have done everything right are able to succeed in being granted their citizenship. In Naturalization cases, it can be difficult to get an approval if the government decides to fight even one minor part of the record. This recent decision by a U.S. District Court highlights the struggle between an individual and USCIS when the government chooses to carry on the fight with its determination that you should not receive citizenship.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled on March 21, 2012, that Plaintiff Mirsad Hajro was eligible for naturalization. The decision follows a May 27, 2011 order by the court denying a summary judgment motion by the government. USCIS originally denied Mr. Hajro’s Form N-400, alleging that the Mr. Hajro gave false testimony with the intent to obtain an immigration benefit, and thus lacked the good moral character required for naturalization.

The facts in question concerned information provided by Mr. Hajro during an interview for his naturalization. Mr. Hajro had served in the Bosnian military and a question arose asking if he had been in possession of any firearms during his time in the military. The court found that the Mr. Hajro did not provide false testimony on either his I-485 or N-400 applications, noting that, in the instances where Mr. Hajro’s responses were deficient, he provided reasonable, credible explanations for the omissions. It also found that Mr. Hajro consistently volunteered information to USCIS to enable it to make its decision. As a result, the court held that the plaintiff was a person of good moral character during the relevant three-year period, and was eligible for naturalization.

In related FOIA litigation, on October 13, 2011, the Northern District of California had ordered USCIS to respond to the Mr. Hajro’s FOIA request for his A file in 20 days, absent unusual circumstances. On May 7, 2012, the court issued a final judgment in the FOIA litigation, finding that USCIS was in violation of FOIA for the reasons set forth in the October order, and issued a permanent injunction requiring USCIS to comply with FOIA’s provisions.

When looking at the motions on this case, it is frustrating to see the government fight this person’s citizenship over such a small matter when our resources need to be put to better use. USCIS felt Mr. Hajro was trying to withhold information about his service in the Bosnian military when that was not the case, which the Court properly concluded. USCIS wasted taxpayer money filing motions to get its own determination upheld when as a matter of law Mr. Hajro was allowed to petition the Court to review his entire case De Novo and reach its own conclusion.

The Court’s decision highlights a frightening concern over the great discretion USCIS has in making capricious and arbitrary decisions. Without the good lawyers that worked on Mr. Hajro’s case, Mr. Hajro would not be able to call himself an American, something every citizen is proud to carry. Cases like Mr. Hajro’s are a call for greater transparency in the immigration process, and quite possibly another reason for why the system is in need of a serious overhaul.