A new study by a US civil rights group exposes a previously unknown system under which some Muslims have had their citizenship applications pushed aside without good reason.
The 76-page report, titled “Muslims Need Not Apply,” was released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU said the citizenship applications are not rejected; they are simply placed on hold. The applicants are not told what has happened or why their applications have not been approved.
The program, never announced by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), was created in 2008, the ACLU said. It is called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program or CARRP.
So far as the ACLU was able to learn, only Muslims have been caught in the CARRP trap.
One major hole in the long report is the absence of statistics. The report gives no indication whether CARRP has held up the citizenship applications of dozens, hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of Muslim applicants. So, the scale of the harm done by CARPP remains unknown.
The report’s title—“Muslims Need Not Apply”—makes it sound as if all applications from Muslims are stymied. But the report makes clear that is not the case.
Among more than a dozen Muslims whose cases were described in detail in the ACLU report were three Iranians—Mahdi Asgari; Abrahim Mosavi; and Hassan Razmara.
The application process is supposed to be completed with six months. Asgari waited three years for his application to be approved. Razmara is still waiting after six years. Mosavi filed his application in 2000 and is still waiting after 13 years.
Mosavi’s case is perhaps the strangest. He came to the United States before the revolution and is now 61 years old. He is not an active Muslim, according to the ACLU, and has never been convicted of any crime in the United States. He has long suspected, however, that his name appears on some government watch list, as he is routinely subjected to interrogation when he re-enters the United States after trips abroad.
The ACLU said people on a terrorism watch list are routinely caught up in the CARRP net and have had their citizenship applications put on hold.
USCIS denied Mosavi’s application in 2010 on grounds that he had failed to provide required information; but the ACLU says USCIS had never told Mosavi he had to supply that information. On appeal, USCIS again refused to accept his application saying that Mosavi had been out of the country longer than the 180-day limit for someone on a green card.
Specifically USCIS said Musavi was abroad through June 6, 2010. But it said that determination was made in February 2010, indicating a unique power to see into the future.
Mosavi said, “I must have citizenship in order to have a certain and stable futureÖ. Becoming a US citizen is my dream. I’m 61 years old and have spent almost 40 years of my life in the United States and 21 years in Iran. I am a stranger in Iran; the United States is my home.”
Unlike Mosavi, Razmara is a practicing Muslim who is active in his mosque—a mosque in West Covina, California, that came under investigation a few years ago and whose imam has been prosecuted for, among many things, violating the sanctions on Iran. Razmara told the ACLU that an FBI agent named Ali attended his second naturalization interview and asked a lot of questions about his mosque.
“Later on, I received several calls from Agent Ali to have another informal interview at a coffee shop,” Razmara told the ACLU. There, Ali “said there is not any problem with my naturalization case and they are not holding it up. But he also said he would expedite my naturalization case if I signed an agreement with him that I become an informant for the FBI.”
Razmara said he refused. “I do not believe that spying on my community is a requirement of US citizenship,” he said. After six years, he is still awaiting a decision on his application.
“Just because I did not sign an agreement with the FBI to spy on my community, I’ve not received my citizenship and I’ve lost a lot of job opportunities,” Razmara said. “Many employers only hire US citizens.”
With his wife, Razmara came to the United States in 2002 as a winner in the Diversity Visa Lottery. His wife applied for citizenship at the same time as her husband and she has been naturalized.
The third Iranian, Mahdi Asgari, has obtained his citizenship after a wait of three years or six times the time specified in the law for review of applications.
Asgari is a math professor who came to the United in 1994 to pursue his doctorate at Purdue University and was allowed to change his status from student to immigrant because of his skills.
After applying for citizenship, the FBI began contacting him and questioning him about his ties to an Iranian he knew at Purdue. That man had subsequently been put on the Treasury Department list of Specially Designated Nationals, a huge list of people pinpointed for sanctions violations, drug trafficking, and terrorism or human rights violations.
Asgari explained that the man was a mere acquaintance and that subsequent to graduate school he had little contact with the man apart from holiday greeting emails.
Asgari told the ACLU, “I think what’s actually more hurtful to me in the citizenship process than the length of time it’s taken is the way some of us are treated differently. If everybody was subject to the same process and it took everybody a long time to naturalize, maybe that would be more understandable. But when the government picks people out of the line and keeps them waiting for long, long periods of time, especially when this seems to be done on account of people’s religion or national origin and when they have been law-abiding, they do not deserve this.”
The ACLU report begins by saying, “Under a previously-unknown national security program, USCIS secretly excludes many of those aspiring Americans from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities from the promises of citizenship, legal residency, asylum, and other benefits by delaying and denying their applications without legal authority. For years, and without notice to applicants, their lawyers, or the public at large, USCIS has been blacklisting law-abiding applicants as ‘national security concerns’ based on lawful religious activity, national origin, and innocuous associations. Once blacklisted, these aspiring Americans are barred from obtaining immigration benefits to which they are legally entitledÖ..
“The program relies on deeply flawed mechanisms to identify ‘national security concerns,’ including error-ridden and overbroad watch-list systems and security checks; and religious, national origin, and associational profiling. Predictably, the CARRP program not only catches far too many harmless applicants in its net, but it has overwhelmingly affected applicants who are Muslim or perceived-to-be Muslim.”
“Through a process known as ‘deconfliction,’ CARRP also cedes much of the authority reserved solely for the immigration agency to federal law enforcement, in particular the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)…. Under CARRP, USCIS officers are instructed to follow FBI direction as to whether to deny, approve, or hold in abeyance—potentially indefinitely—an application for an immigration benefit. As a result, CARRP has effectively turned the immigration benefits adjudication process over to the FBI.
“Although naturalization applications must generally be adjudicated within six months of filing, CARRP has led USCIS to hold applications for years without adjudication. While the applicants wait, they continue on with their lives as lawful permanent residents in the United States. Ironically, while CARRP treats applicants as supposedly too dangerous to naturalize, they are simultaneously treated as too harmless to expeditiously investigate, arrest or deport, under-
mining any argument that applicants subject to CARRP are true ‘national security concerns.’”
In its detailed findings, the ACLU says CARRP automatically deems applicants whose names appear on the Terrorist Watch List as “national security concerns.” It says the Terrorist Watch List “is a faulty, over-inclusive list containing hundreds of thousands of names of individuals, including US residents, who are never told they are on the Watch List or given a meaningful opportunity to dispute their inclusion on it.”
The ACLU says CARRP also instructs USCIS officers to label applicants “national security concerns” if they gave lawful donations to several large Muslim-American charities, “even if those donations were made long before any accusations that the charities were providing ‘material support’ to terrorist organizations. CARRP encourages such labeling despite the fact that the US government portrayed the very same donors as innocent, misled victims of these charities when it shut them down.”
The ACLU also says CARRP instructs USCIS officers to label applicants “national security concerns” based on national origin and other overbroad criteria, such as if they have “travel[ed] through or resid[ed] in areas of known terrorist activity”—effectively singling applicants out based on the country they are from—or if they wire money back to their families in their home countries; or if they speak a foreign language or have certain professions.
The ACLU charged, “Under CARRP, USCIS will neither tell applicants that they have been deemed a ‘national security concern,’ nor give them an opportunity to contest that designation.
“USCIS violates Constitutional due process protections and its own regulations by relying on derogatory information … [but] never disclosing that information or allowing the applicant to confront it.”
After 9/11, the US government instituted a tighter check on citizenship applicants that resulted in huge backlogs, primarily because the FBI was not staffed to run all the names of citizenship applicants through its records. As a result of lawsuits, that system was dropped. What was not known until now, the ACLU says, is that CARRP was created in secret to replace the previous system that was being dropped.