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December 19, 2014

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Citizenship granted: ‘It’s like a new birthday for me’

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Steve Marcus

Abdul Nasser Karouni is shown with his wife Marian at the Afandi Restaurant and Market, 5181 W. Charleston Blvd., Tuesday, July 15, 2014. His wife was granted citizenship over a year ago but Abdul is still waiting.

Abdul Nasser Karouni

Businessman Abdul Nasser Karouni poses at the Afandi Restaurant and Market, 5181 W. Charleston Blvd., Wednesday, July 16, 2014. Karouni's wife was granted citizenship over a year ago but Karouni is still waiting. Karouni owns Alfandi with his business partner Ghazwan Launch slideshow »

Like a middle school love note from the most attractive girl in class, Abdul Nasser Karouni keeps the letter from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in his back pocket. He looks at it, with a beaming smile, over and over again.

The letter states that Karouni, 43, will be sworn in as a U.S. citizen Aug. 8 at the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.

“It’s like a new birthday for me,” he said. “My birthday was 1/1/1971, and now it’s 8/8/2014. I’m so excited. It is such a huge relief for me.”

The Sunday told the story of Karouni, an immigrant from Lebanon who has lived in the United States for more than a decade, in its July 27 edition.

Karouni applied for citizenship in October 2012 with his wife. They both passed the tests, but only his wife took the oath of allegiance in May 2013. Karouni was questioned by FBI agents, who probed him for links to Islamic militant groups.

Karouni, who has three U.S. citizen siblings, vehemently denied any connections. No charges were filed.

Karouni waited for word about his application from the FBI or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. His lawyer, Ed Prudhomme, pressed both for answers. Karouni stopped traveling and started to worry that he would be deported, causing him to lose the Middle Eastern market and restaurant he started in 2009. In 2013, he missed his mother’s funeral in Lebanon because he was too worried about the investigation to travel.

After 20 months, Karouni finally got his answer.

“This case really got to me,” said Prudhomme, an immigration attorney for five decades. “I’m elated for him.”

USCIS and FBI officials declined to comment on the case. USCIS performs background checks on all citizenship applicants, and any law enforcement agency can hold an application while investigating.

According to Prudhomme, a USCIS administrator told him Karouni’s file was mislabeled.

“I never found out exactly what happened, but the important thing is I get to be a citizen,” Karouni said. “I’m going to wear a suit and throw a party when I get sworn in. Then, I’m going to fly to Lebanon so I can visit my mother’s grave.”

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