Secret Bush-era blacklist delays Muslim citizenship applications - lawsuit

Muslims pray as they take part in a protest against presidential candidate Donald Trump outside of his New York City office on December 20, 2015. © Eduardo Munoz
Thirteen Muslims living in the US have filed a lawsuit against the US government for delaying their citizenship applications, which they believe is part of a discriminatory screening process started during the George W Bush administration.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Charles Johnson have been accused of screening out the Missouri residents under a secret initiative called the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), which flags applicants as national security threats through racial profiling, according to a Mother Jones report.

Receiving a large money transfer or traveling to a country with terrorist activity, like Pakistan for example, are among some of the reasons for flagging.

The program was initially uncovered in 2013 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and was also being used to screen Syrian refugees entering the US, according to Buzzfeed.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which filed the federal lawsuit, also warns that CARRP illegally discriminates against citizenship applicants from Muslim-majority countries.

“The CARRP definition illegally brands innocent, law-abiding residents like [the] plaintiffs, none of whom pose a security threat, as ‘national security concerns’ on account of innocuous activity and associations, innuendo, suppositions and characteristics such as national origin,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed with a local immigration litigation law firm representing the Missouri Muslims in the case.

Lead attorney Jim Hacking said a similar case in 2014 was quickly dealt with by the government after being filed.

READ MORE: ​Muslims sue federal govt for stonewalling citizenship requests

“When I filed for the 36 clients in [previous] cases that had been delayed for three, four, five years all of a sudden [they] became a priority,” he told Mother Jones. “This is because the government tries to root out the case. They don’t want a federal judge ruling on whether CARRP is legal or illegal, so they try to get rid of all the plaintiffs by either approving or denying their case.”

USCIS should process naturalization applications within six months, but in the cases of Muslim immigrants, this hasn’t happened.

Wafaa Alwan, a 49-year-old Iraqi woman highlighted in the lawsuit, applied for citizenship in late 2014, but wasn’t interviewed for eight months and is still waiting for a final decision.

Pakistani Syed Asghar Ali has been in limbo for more than two years.

The vetting process can also be delayed if the applicant’s name is one of the million on the FBI’s ‘Terror Watch List,’ even though the Intercept reported that more than 40 percent of those on the list have “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.”

READ MORE: ‘Bigoted and misguided’: American Muslims file twin lawsuits over terror watch list

While this policy started under President Bush, it flourished with Obama in the White House, including when Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a ban of Muslims entering the country, while hate crimes against those of the Islamic faith are on the rise.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called for unity in reaction to Trump’s anti-Muslim stance.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services did not respond directly to the latest allegations, but a spokesperson told Mother Jones that the agency requires “additional time to thoroughly vet each immigrant” in order to ensure citizenship is not issued to people who could pose a threat to public safety.