The revelations about the extensive surveillance clandestinely undertaken by the NSA have been a jarring reminder about the lengths government agencies have been going to in the name of protecting national security. A new report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California shows that another federal agency, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has in effect instructed its officers to screen eligible, law-abiding immigrants from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities for national security concerns and put the U.S. citizenship applications of some Muslims on hold for years.
The Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) has been secret, unknown to the public and not approved by Congress, according to the author of the report, Jennie Pasquarella of the ACLU. Under the CAARP, immigration officials have been instructed to find ways to deny applications on the basis of “national security concerns.”
The ACLU of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center and the Council on American Islamic Relations only uncovered the USCIS program after filing a Freedom of Information Act request to naturalization policies predicated on racial, religious and national origin profiling.
CARRP has existed since 2008; it is not yet known how many people have been affected by being in effect blacklisted by immigration officials.
Applicants have been cited “because of lawful religious activity, or they come from a certain country, or because their names are on or they are associated with someone whose name is on flawed terrorist watch lists,” writes Pasquarella. Applicants — legal residents and holding green cards — then find themselves “caught in a Kafka-esque web of delays” with their applications in limbo for years (USCIS is expected to process naturalization applications within six months or 180 days) but unable to respond to “concerns” noted by the government.
“By giving itself the authority to deny applications based on secret criteria that it never discloses, USCIS denies applicants the fairness they are due under the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution and applicatory immigration regulations,” the ACLU report states.
When someone’s application has been flagged due to “national security concerns,” the appropriate law enforcement agency with information about the immigrant is consulted. Officials then conduct additional research while applications are put on hold for lengthy periods of time and most eventually denied, without disclosure of why.
The existence of CAARP only came to light after a pattern in the stalled processing — and discriminatory delay — of applications by Muslim immigrants was detected. CAARP simply makes it clear that, in the ACLU’s words,”Muslims need not apply” for U.S. citizenship.
The Cast of Tarek Hamdi
One legal resident, 50-year-old Tarek Hamdi, came to the United States as a teenager. He is married to an American citizen (his college sweetheart). He has raised four daughters, worked for decades in the United States as a civil engineer and paid taxes. He considers himself more American than Egyptian.
Hamdi’s application for U.S. citizenship was rejected “simply because he made his annual tithing (or a religious donation, known as zakat in Islam) to an Islamic relief aid organization,” says Pasquarella. The government shut down the charity, the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF), due to allegations that it supported terrorism; the organization’s leaders were charged with defrauding contributors like Hamdi. But it still took eleven years for Hamdi’s application to be reviewed instead of the usual half a year.
The USCIS did ultimately grant Hamdi citizenship. Iranian math professor Mahdi Asgari, a Muslim, actually received visits from the FBI after he applied for citizenship three years ago. He was asked about his relationship with another Iranian graduate student, though he had had only minimal contact with him for years. It shatters your belief to some “extent in what America stands for,” Asgari said of his case.
CAARP Disparages “the Very Meaning of the Constitution”
Supporters of CAARP contend it is necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombings in April. But that can hardly be the case as the criteria for the program were developed in 2009, long before that, and those who have been investigated have not been required to leave the United States.
As the ACLU points out, in 1952, Congress said in the Immigration and Nationality Act that “[t]he right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race,” thereby abolishing racism from the naturalization process. As the cases of Hamdi and Asgari show,
While outright prohibited, racial and religious discrimination again infects the naturalization process, disparaging the very meaning of the Constitution to which many new Americans seek to pledge their allegiance. … The ACLU/SC also filed a federal court lawsuit on behalf of Tarek Hamdi seeking that a judge finally restore his dream and decide on his “Americanness” based on the content of his proven character, not the color of his skin or the god to whom he prays.
What is known is that yet another government agency has been conducting surveillance without public knowledge of its activities and not only on its citizens, but those legally allowed within the United States’ borders.
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