After nearly eight years in the United States and a court fight with the government, Bosnian war refugee Adila Palalija can finally call herself an American.
She is one of 34 Bosnians enjoying their first days as U.S. citizens. The group had filed a federal lawsuit in March, claiming the government was unlawfully delaying their applications to become citizens.
The Bosnians became citizens Friday during a festive ceremony at Harris-Stowe State College. The case was dismissed the same day, as lawyers said the refugees had gotten the relief they had been seeking.
“We’re celebrating, yes,” Palalija said Tuesday through a translator.
About 40,000 Bosnians settled in the St. Louis area in the 1990s, following the war in the former Yugoslavia. They were asked to wait five years before applying for citizenship, said Ann Lever, litigation director for St. Louis-based Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
Dozens sought waivers, claiming disabilities should excuse them from taking the citizenship test in English. The waiver requests were approved, but their applications toward citizenship stalled.
The disabilities ranged from war-related post-traumatic stress disorder to medical conditions, such as stroke. Each person provided certification of physical or mental impairments.
The lawsuit was resolved when the government reviewed the facts and decided they were eligible for naturalization and exempt from the civics and language requirement, Lever said.
Lever said the Saint Louis University Legal Clinic and the St. Louis office of the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry worked on the case.
– Associated Press
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