An American-Muslim group says incidents of hate crimes and other discrimination against Muslims in the United States are on the rise. The group said Muslims especially face delays in their efforts to attain U.S. citizenship. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.
The 2007 annual report of the group CAIR, or the Council on American-Islamic Relations, reports what it says is an increase in anti-Muslim discrimination and harassment in the United States. The group's executive director, Nihad Awad, says this finding continues a trend that his group pointed out in its first report 10 years ago.
"We notice there is 25 percent increase in the total number of complaints of anti-Muslim bias from 2005 to 2006," said . "We see this as an alarming sign because we have not witnessed a major decrease in these cases since we started reporting this."
The study says there were more than 2,400 incidents of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in the United States last year, compared to more than 1,900 in 2005.
Report author Arsalan Iftikhar says he is especially concerned with what he says are unfair delays Muslims face in their quest to become naturalized American citizens.
"One of the most significant increases we've seen in the types of alleged abuse was the concept of citizenship delays," said Arsalan Iftikhar.
CAIR says there was a significant increase in the number of Muslims complaining about immigration issues, especially the lengthy processing times for their citizenship and naturalization applications.
Since the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service does not break down applications by race, religion or ethnicity, there is no way of determining the number of Muslims who are seeking citizenship.
Chris Rhatigan, at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, rejected CAIR's claims that the service discriminates against Muslims, saying U.S. immigration officials do not deny people based on ethnicity, race, age or gender.
Rhatigan says that her office has been dealing with what she characterized as a "huge backlog" of applicants, but that the backlog is diminishing. She said there was a huge push last year to, in her words, "eliminate" the backlog and that the average processing time is now seven months.
According to Rhatigan, the longest part of the application process is the background check because investigators have to examine applicants from so many countries. She said her office will not grant someone citizenship unless he or she meets all the requirements of the law.
On average, Rhatigan said, the United States receives more than one million applications a year from people who want to become naturalized citizens.
Meanwhile, CAIR's Iftikhar said his group is recommending that the U.S. government budget more money for immigration processing. He said he is pleased to see this sentiment is shared by Congress. He pointed to legislation introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives that call for increased funding for U.S. CIS and the FBI, which is responsible for conducting the background checks.