LOS ANGELES - The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR), and the law firm of Mayer Brown today released a 70-page report exposing a covert government program called the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program” (CARRP), which was created in 2008 to make it all but impossible for many Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian individuals to become American citizens, or otherwise obtain legal residency or asylum status.
Each year, millions of aspiring Americans apply for United States citizenship and other immigration benefits with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency tasked with making such determinations. Under the CARRP program, USCIS has secretly blacklisted law-abiding applicants, labeling them “national security concerns,” and cast their applications into a vacuum where they languish for years or are simply denied without justification. The agency often mislabels applicants “national security concerns” based on nothing more than lawful religious activity, national origin, and innocuous associations. In doing so, the agency captures far too many Muslim residents who present no threat at all, let alone any threat to our national security.
The CARRP program specifically directs agency officers to delay, and ultimately deny, the immigration benefits of those applicants it has chosen to blacklist, even if the applicant is legally entitled to those benefits. The agency does not let the individuals know that they have been labeled a threat to our nation, nor does it give them an opportunity to contest to the allegations. While the government treats them as too dangerous to naturalize or immigrate to this country, it simultaneously treats them as too harmless to expeditiously investigate, prosecute, or deport.
“Under CARRP, the immigration service has secretly written its own discriminatory immigration exclusion rules without the legal authority to do so and without the knowledge of Congress or the public,” said Jennie Pasquarella, staff attorney at ACLU SoCal and the lead author of the report. “By relegating the applications of Muslim applicants to a deceptive program designed to deny them membership in our nation’s community without fair process, the immigration service sends one strong message: ‘Muslims need not apply.’”
The U.S. Constitution forbids USCIS from creating its own rules of citizenship and immigration, and reserves that power for Congress. By barring the provision of citizenship and other immigration benefits to applicants who are legally eligible for those benefits under the criteria enacted by Congress, and by mandating inordinate delays in contravention of statutory processing time limits, CARRP directs USCIS officers to violate the very immigration laws that they are meant to administer.
“It is ironic that USCIS has infused the very process of becoming a U.S. citizen, which requires our nation’s newest members to pledge their allegiance to our flag and uphold the principles of the U.S. Constitution, with a wholly un-American program,” said Paul R. Chavez, senior staff attorney at LCCR. “This program offends the most cherished American values of fairness and equality.”
Under U.S. naturalization law, USCIS is directed to adjudicate naturalization applications within six months. As illustrated in the report, they routinely fail to do so once an applicant falls under the heavy hand of CARRP.
Abrahim Mosavi, a national of Iran and resident of the United States for more than three decades, applied to naturalize in 2000. Although he is eligible to become a citizen, because of CARRP, he has waited thirteen years for a final decision on his application.
“No one can tell me why I should have to wait so long,” said Mr. Mosavi. “At least, if the agency has any questions, they should ask me and I can clarify for them. I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Ahmad and Reem Muhanna, Palestinian nationals and practicing Muslims, have called the United States home since 1988. They filed their naturalization applications in May 2007, but six years later are still waiting for a final decision on their applications due to CARRP.
“I love the United States. This is our home. I deserve to be treated the same as any other person who applies to become a citizen. Why should we be treated differently just because we are Muslims? We deserve to become Americans just like anyone else,” said Reem Muhanna.
Making matters worse, USCIS has ceded much of the authority reserved solely for the immigration agency to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Once an applicant is under the auspices of CARRP, immigration officers defer to the FBI on what action they should take on any particular application, including whether to deny, approve, or hold the application indefinitely. USCIS has abdicated its responsibility to administer our nation’s immigration laws. As a result, the FBI has abused this newfound power and has gone so far as to manipulate the immigration process to coerce applicants to become informants for the agency.
The report released today recommends that CARRP be rescinded or substantially reformed to ensure that it comports with immigration law, as well as basic standards of fairness and non-discrimination. Applicants should no longer be arbitrarily barred from receiving the benefits to which they are legally eligible.
ACLU of Southern California Attorney Jennie Pasquarella will be available beginning at 8:00 a.m. and throughout the day for interviews. Interviews with individuals swept up in the CARRP program available depending on their schedule.