In August, Hashed Mousa, an employee at the MSM Deli on Sixth Avenue in Tacoma, applied to get passports for three of his kids.
The Tacoma family’s attorney said rhetoric during the presidential campaign about immigrants worried the Mousas, who are Muslim, and they wanted the passports to prove the minors’ U.S. citizenship.
The process should have taken weeks but more than five months later, the passports haven’t been issued, and the delay prompted Mousa to sue the federal government this week — the second time he’s done so.
The 37-year-old father of six was born in Yemen, has lived in the United States since 1998 and worked at the Tacoma sandwich institution for almost 20 years.
He became a citizen in 2005, and the children followed.
“They were worried about the election cycle that just concluded a few minutes ago,” the family’s attorney, Greg McLawsen said Friday after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “They were just trying to get the applications done before today.”
McLawsen spoke with The News Tribune after the Mousas declined to do an interview.
Local U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie said Friday she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit. She said it didn’t look as if the government had been served yet, and she didn’t know whether the case would be handled by the local office or from Washington, D.C.
The State Department media office did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
During the election season, Trump focused on fears of Islamic extremism in his immigration platform, including calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. And at times he spoke of having a registry of Muslims in the United States.
“There is huge concern in the Muslim communities, and not all of it is very well founded from a legal perspective,” McLawsen said. “But just to give you a sense, I get between 10 and 20 contacts from Muslim individuals every day, asking things like: ‘Can the president take away my green card?’ ”
The answer is no, he said. Trump can’t take away green cards or citizenship.
But the Mousas had their citizenship questioned previously by the U.S. government, and have sued over similar passport trouble. They fear their citizenship could be further scrutinized under Trump’s administration, and wanted the children to have passports as additional documents to prove it.
“They’re coming from a place where the government has already, for a very long period of time, denied their citizenship claims,” McLawsen said.
The expedited passport requests they made to the State Department and paid for under President Barack Obama’s administration still are being processed.
When they’ve asked the government why, they’ve been told the applications still are under review, McLawsen said.
“It looks to them like the government is once again questioning the legitimacy of their claims to U.S. citizenship, and that’s a pretty valid concern, really,” he said. “... I honestly have no idea what’s causing the problem right now.”
The family’s first round of passport problems started in 2009 after Mousa filed to bring his wife and five children to the United States. (The youngest was born later in the United States.)
Two of the younger children were denied passports, even though they had citizenship through their father. The family sued in 2013, and the government issued the documents as part of the settlement.
The three oldest children (twin boys and a girl) came to the United States on visas and then became citizens. Now ages 15 and 11, they’re the ones whose passport applications are in limbo, and are the subject of the new lawsuit.
The suit, filed Thursday, is against the United States, the secretary of State and the Department of State National Passport Processing Center.
As part of the passport application process, the kids sent in their certificates of citizenship, which means they no longer have official proof of their citizenship in their possession.
That caused a problem when one of them was considering switching schools, and was told he had to bring in the certificate to enroll, McLawsen said.
The State Department’s website says expedited passport processing should take about two or three weeks.
The department warned travelers about a year ago that it expected delays in passport processing because of a surge in applications forecast through 2018.
Forbes magazine reported that the government expected applications to take a couple of extra weeks for review during that time.
The State Department expected the surge because it saw one about 10 years ago when Americans started needing the documents to travel to Canada and Mexico. Now those passports are expiring.
Also, some driver’s licenses in three states — including Washington — don’t meet new federal requirements and don’t have an extension. The requirements include security enhancements, and a regulation that the licenses be issued only to people in the United States legally.
The requirements are set to be enforced next year. Unless the states make the required changes in time, their residents will need a document such as a passport (or enhanced driver’s license) to board a plane.
Given that, the State Department expects a corresponding uptick in passport requests.
It’s not clear what the hold-up is in the Mousa family’s case, but McLawsen said they hope they can negotiate with the government to get the passports.
Meanwhile, Mousa filed to renew his own passport in December and is still waiting.
“It’s been longer than it should have been, but we want to follow-up one more time with the passport center before adding that to the complaint,” McLawsen said.