A Russian man who now lives in Kernersville has filed a complaint against U.S. immigration agencies that alleges that they have unreasonably delayed processing his application for permanent residency.
The complaint is an example of how frustrated foreigners are looking for new tools to speed up the handling of applications for immigration, a local lawyer said yesterday.
"Regrettably, resorting to federal court is one of the only avenues left for immigrant applicants," said Heather MacKenzie, an immigration lawyer. "The system of immigration itself is so backlogged and CIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) is so unresponsive, the only way you can get results is through court."
Oleg Baklenov filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Greensboro on Oct. 20 alleging that those responsible for processing permanent-residency documents, or green cards, have taken nearly three years to notify him of the status of his application because of an administrative oversight. Baklenov alleges in the complaint that the immigration department failed to send a request to the FBI for a name check after he filed his application on March 19, 2003. The FBI checks on whether applicants have criminal backgrounds.
MacKenzie, who is not involved in Baklenov's case, said that most of her clients are notified "around the 24-month mark" about the status of employment-based applications for permanent residency, which is the type Baklenov applied for. Generally, it takes two to four years before an applicant is notified of the status of that application, she said.
For Baklenov, time is an issue because his grandmother has multiple sclerosis and other ailments, and he wants to travel to the Czech Republic to see her. If he leaves the country without a green card he might not be able to return.
"My grandmother is still in the hospital," said Baklenov, who is representing himself in the case. "She's in a steady state, but she's in old age. I can't leave the country because I don't know if I'll be able to come back."
"I'm optimistic that this will probably be settled out of court," Baklenov said. "The U.S. district attorney is talking with USCIS trying to expedite name-check process." MacKenzie said that when a complaint, called a writ of mandamus, is filed a U.S. attorney calls the immigration department to check on the application status.
"When you file a writ it pushes (immigration) to make a decision," MacKenzie said yesterday.
Baklenov's complaint names the U.S. Department on Homeland Security; Robert Divine, the acting deputy director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Paul Novak, the director of the Vermont Service Center, a processing center of immigration documents; and Alberto Gonzalez, the U.S. attorney general.
Baklenov, an engineer in Greensboro, said he has been in the United States for 11 years and has used interim work permits to maintain U.S. residency. The work permit alone does not allow a person to leave the country without a travel document, which allows an immigrant to re-enter the United States.
Baklenov said that when he filed his application for permanent residency in 2003, he didn't expect the delay and chose not to re-apply for a travel document, which costs nearly $200 and must be applied for each year. Green cards are valid for 10 years and allow immigrants to freely travel outside the United States
U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-5th, e-mailed the FBI, which said that it did not receive name-check requests from immigration until Feb. 9 this year, according to the complaint. Name-check requests are supposed to be sent by immigration at the start of the application process, Baklenov said in the complaint.
Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for Citizen and Immigration Services, said that Immigration has "a number" of similar complaints pending, and "all are related to security clearance" by the FBI.
"It could be an unnecessary hang-up, but that's more of the exception than the norm these days," Strassberger said. "It may seem that it's taking a long time for him, but it actually could be moving along as it should."
Penni Bradshaw, another local immigration lawyer, said that each case is different and that it is hard to determine how long it can take for green cards to be issued.
And even if Baklenov wins in court, he may not immediately get a green card, Bradshaw said.
"Even if the court were to grant relief, (the immigration department) would say we can complete the administrative process, but he can't be approved for the green card until his number comes up," she said.
Usually green cards are issued in the order applications are received, Bradshaw said.
Because of the uncertain status of his application, Baklenov has not scheduled a date to visit his 80-year-old grandmother, whom he credits with being a great influence in his life. Baklenov said he would probably stay about a month in the Czech Republic - where his grandmother is hospitalized - to arrange long-term care for her.
"I'm not suing the INS for money, I'm suing them for attention," Baklenov said. "It should not take this long to be notified of your status."