Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report detailing a previously unknown US government program that has delayed or denied citizenship to thousands immigrants who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim. Blacklisted immigrants not only face unexplained delays or denials in their application, but also can be denied other immigration benefits such as visas, green cards, or asylum status.
The program, titled Controlled citizenship Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP, began in 2008 under George Bush and has continued under the Obama administration. Through program, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) works with the FBI to target immigrants suspected of being national security threats, and cedes authority to the FBI to indefinitely delay or deny citizenship based on the investigation. ACLU attorney and author of the investigation, Jennie Pasquarella, writes:
“The CARRP program directs agency officers to delay and ultimately deny the immigration benefits applications of applicants it has blacklisted, all without even telling these individuals that they were labeled threats to our nation, let alone giving them an opportunity to respond to the allegations. Although the U.S. Constitution expressly forbids USCIS from creating its own rules of naturalization, it secretly has done precisely that under CARRP.”
CARRP delays or denies citizenship and other forms of immigration status to those who are labeled national security concerns. The ACLU describes these criteria as discriminatory, arbitrary, and over-broad, specifically treating “religious practices, national origin, and innocuous associations and activities as ‘national security concerns.’” As a result, the program has disproportionately denied immigration benefits to immigrants from Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities.
Sonali Kohlatkar, a journalist and lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit, wrote about the ACLU report and her experience. An immigrant from the United Arab Emirates, she also faced a mysterious delay in processing her application for citizenship: “USCIS is supposed to adjudicate applications within 6 months, but years went by. I wrote letters to no avail.” She goes on to describe the impact this denial had on her personal life, and the different ways she suspected she could have been targeted. While Kohlatkar was ultimately granted citizenship after the lawsuit, many others were not, and the dragnet program itself continues.
The ACLU report, titled “Muslims Need Not Apply,” also includes personal stories, revealing the devastating impact of this secret program on individuals and communities. It describes a dragnet, a discriminatory set of processes that target and exclude immigrants who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim from becoming citizens. The report further details the violations of due process and constitutional law.
“Congress long ago sought to eradicate discrimination from our naturalization system by passing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.4 But since 2008, USCIS has effectively resurrected this discrimination under the cover of CARRP. Through CARRP, USCIS has established its own undisclosed set of criteria that do not relate to statutory eligibility, but nonetheless delay and exclude certain applicants from obtaining benefits without congressional approval.”
According to Pasquarella, the report is only the tip of the iceberg. USCIS has yet to respond to a lawsuit the ACLU filed in June requesting more information. And of the information provided to the civil rights organization, much of it was redacted. Meanwhile, the USCIS, in collaboration with the FBI, continue their discriminatory practices.