A covert U.S. Immigration program improperly uses religion and nation of origin to "blacklist" residents seeking citizenship, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contends in a newly published report.
The program attributed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) appears intended to screen out potential terrorists, but is "based on criteria that ultimately have nothing to do with real security concerns," said Jennie Pasquarella, ACLU staff attorney and author of the report.
Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian applicants are more likely to face delays and denials under the program, according to the conclusions of the report, titled "Muslims Need Not Apply -- How USCIS Secretly Mandates the Discriminatory Delay and Denial of Citizenship and Immigration Benefits to Aspiring Americans."
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The ACLU singles out the "Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program," also known by the acronym, "CARRP."
In response to the ACLU report, the USCIS public affairs office issued a statement that did not mention or acknowledge CARRP.
"USCIS' highest priority is to safeguard our nation and protect the integrity of our immigration system," the agency said in a statement.
The agency defended the review process as in compliance with immigration laws, and further stated USCIS "will not sacrifice national security or public safety in the interest of expediting the review of benefit applications."
The USCIS was created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002. It took over the responsibilities of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service.
References to CARRP were first discovered by Pasquarella during the discovery phase of a citizenship denial that was appealed in Federal District Court.
The case was filed on behalf of Tarek Hamdi, an Egyptian emigre with legal permanent residency, but whose application for citizenship, first made in 2001 to the old INS, had repeatedly been delayed and twice denied for reasons that appeared to Pasquarella to be merely "pretexts."
In 2004, his first application was rejected after he missed an interview he said was mistakenly scheduled in Sacramento after he had moved to Los Angeles.
In 2008, the denial cited his donation to a U.S.-registered charity that raised money ostensibly for relief efforts in the Arab world.
Hamdi and Pasquarella acknowledged that the Benevolence International Foundation was later found to have funneled funds to rebel fighters in Bosnia and Chechnya. But they insisted Hamdi had no knowledge at the time of the donation.
In fact, the Justice Department later prosecuted the leader of the Foundation's US operations for diverting funds donors were told would go to humanitarian relief. Last year, a federal district court overturned the denial of Hamdi's citizenship application, and he was sworn in as a U-S citizen.
CAARP appears to Pasquarella to be an outgrowth of the FBI Name Check program that was instituted after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks by Al-Qaeda. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of names have been added to the Terrorist Watch List that Pasquarella believes is one criterion for applying CARRP to an applicant's review.
Some names have been added in error. Pasquarella noted that Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandela was listed as late as 2008.
The late Sen. Ted Kennedy learned from airport screening delays that he, too, had been put on the list. "They're using criteria that sweep in so many people there's no connection to whether they actually pose a security threat," Pasquarella said.
CARRP documents provided by the government in the Hamdi case show resolution flow charts that do not include the possibility of granting citizenship to those under CAARP review.
"All paths lead to denial," said Pasquarella. Because applicants are not told when they are put under CARRP review, Pasquarella cannot estimate how many have been.
"At the bare minimum, they should be told...and given a chance to respond," she said.
Hamdi hopes CARRP will be reformed or scrapped.
"It's a discriminatory policy," Hamdi said. "There's no place for that in the United States."
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