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Charlotte principal gets a hearing — and a right to vote

Citizenship granted

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Hassan Elannani, principal of Charlotte Islamic Academy, spent nearly six years trying to become an American citizen. After applying for citizenship in 2002, the Morocco-born man waited. And waited. Until November, when the American Civil Liberties Union of N.C. filed a lawsuit on his behalf.

On April 23, Elannani was sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

As Creative Loafing reported in February, Elannani has lived legally in the United States since 1997, earning a Ph.D. from Illinois State University. His wife was granted citizenship in 1995, and his children are U.S.-born citizens.

Elannani's lawyer, Katherine Lewis Parker, said last week that Elannani's delay -- and that of another N.C. man, Mugtaba Eltayeb -- seemed part of a disturbing trend of delaying immigration applications without regard to the law.

"Here we have two individuals who follow the rules, did everything they were supposed to do -- dotted their i's, crossed their t's, had been paying taxes, have raised families, are good community members -- and until we intervened, the system wasn't working for them," said Parker, legal director of the ACLU of N.C. Legal Foundation in Raleigh

Elannani spoke with CL last week about his delay and his newfound citizenship. The following was edited for clarity and length:

CL: How did this delay of nearly six years affect your life?

Elannani: I was not able to travel overseas, specifically to Morocco to see my mother and my relatives there. That was number one obstacle. The second thing was not knowing exactly why it's been delayed and not knowing how long it's going to take. I was in limbo, waiting.

How long has it been since you saw your mother?

Yeah, for ten years. Ten years now.

Do you have plans to see her now?

Yes, in the summer. I'm going over there in the summer. She's old, 76 years old, and finally I get to go see her.

How will being a citizen affect your life?

There are some jobs you have to be a citizen to apply for those jobs. Now I can. I was not able to vote. Now actually Tuesday [April 29] I voted in the primary.

Had anyone alleged that there was any sort of national security reason for the delay?

No. They told me, "Your case is still pending, undergoing name check." [The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services requires background name checks on all applicants.]

Did you feel the delay was because you're Muslim or because you're from Morocco?

There are other nationalities also that are facing the same thing. I can't determine that it was done because I was from Morocco.

At any time, did anyone accuse you of having links to [any terrorist organization]?

No, never.

Do you think the lawsuit made a difference?

Yes. I do. A big difference. Actually, without the lawsuit, my file would have been put on the shelf for I don't know how many years.

Several years ago, you were quoted in an Illinois paper [The Pantagraph] as advocating peace and nonviolence [Elannani was imam of Islamic Center of Bloomington-Normal].

I'm for peaceful resolution of any conflict. After 9/11, I was asked to speak in different places about how we should have tolerance for each other and also to understand each other, different communities. I did something I believe I should do as a person living in this country. I'm in education. I teach my students, my kids, to be good citizens of this country to contribute to the common good of society.

How, if at all, did this affect your feelings about the government?

I think it's [the duty] of the government to protect the people, but at the same time, for those people who are law abiding and good citizens, they should help them and process their applications without delay.

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