What's in a name? Well, plenty, it seems, for Ahmed Mohamed Warsame, a Somali refugee who came to this country in 1995, graduated from Roseville Area High School in 1999, and wanted, desperately, to become a U.S. citizen.

Warsame has the unfortunate coincidence of having a name similar to that of a terror suspect, Mohamed Warsame, who has been locked up since he crossed into the United States from Canada. It took two years of phone calls, waiting, fingerprints, more waiting, letters from lawyers and U.S. senators and more waiting. And, still, Warsame's efforts for citizenship were stalled.

That is, until a Bloomington attorney who works out of her home and had never handled an immigration case before sued federal officials in May. She pointed out that not only did authorities have fingerprints to tell the difference between the unrelated men, but also that the terror suspect has been in jail for five years.

Now, Ahmed Warsame, 30, is a citizen.

And federal officials, while not acknowledging that they had the two Warsames confused, admit that checking his name and fingerprints through the FBI could have been the reason for the long delay.

"There were nearly 30,000 naturalization cases submitted to the FBI before May of 2006 that were most likely recently resolved," said Marilu Cabrera of the Chicago office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). "We had a backlog."

She added: "This is one of the reasons we see, a similar name to someone on a terrorist watch list."

Said Lisa Miller, Ahmed Warsame's attorney: "I think what happened to Ahmed is simply that he applied for citizenship at a time when there were a lot of security concerns."

'I don't know him'

Ahmed Warsame came to the United States from Somalia in 1995 at age 17. He graduated from Roseville Area High School in 1999, attended Century College and, later, truck driving school. He now drives truck across the country.

"I have never been in trouble, never arrested," he said.

In December 2003, authorities arrested Mohamed Warsame, a Canadian citizen, in connection with suspected terrorist activities against the United States. He has been in federal custody since.

The two are not related. "I don't know him," Ahmed Warsame said.

Ahmed Warsame applied for citizenship in the spring of 2006. Yet, despite passing his English, government and history tests, Warsame was told by federal officials that his application for citizenship was being held for a name check. If he wasn't approved within six months, officials told him, he should "get an attorney."

Miller got involved in September 2006. She was looking for pro bono work through the Immigrant Law Center in Bloomington, but had never handled an immigration case before. She read about the arrest of Mohamed Warsame in the newspaper.

"I thought, oh my God, I bet they think my client is this guy," she said.

She fired off letters. To the CIS office in Bloomington, to the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis and to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office. The answers were similar: "Basically that the FBI is working on it," Miller said.

Along the way, Ahmed Warsame renewed his green card and was learning to become a truck driver. And he was getting more frustrated.

"At first, I thought they were just ignoring me," he said. "Then they told me to wait, wait, wait."

Finally in May 2008, Miller and Warsame filed a federal lawsuit. They asked for no money, sought no damages. All they wanted was to let Ahmed Warsame become a citizen. His first appearance in the case was June 11.

On June 20, Warsame got a letter from federal officials setting his naturalization appointment. And, on July 15, he stood with 635 other people and became a U.S. citizen.

Sitting in his apartment Monday morning, Warsame smiled at the meaning of his last name.

"It means 'Good news.' Like if your wife is pregnant and has a baby, you say, 'Warsame! Good news."

He laughed when he was asked if Warsame might not mean the opposite here.

"I am happy now," he said. "Finally."

James Walsh • 612-673-7428