By Daina Beth Solomon
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Five long-time U.S. residents who are Muslim or from Muslim-majority countries sued the federal government on Thursday, saying the Department of Homeland Security was unfairly denying or delaying requests for citizenship and permanent residency on vague security grounds.
The plaintiffs, all immigrants who are either practicing Muslims or are from predominantly Muslim nations, complain their immigration or naturalization petitions were illegally thwarted after they were flagged for potential national security concerns under a federal program.
They complained that the criteria for flagging applications under the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) were secretive and broader than authorized by the U.S. Congress, essentially creating an immigration blacklist.
“Our clients are long-time, law-abiding residents of the United States who, for years, the government has walled off from becoming citizens and lawful residents of this country without legal authority to do so,” said Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which filed the suit in federal court in Los Angeles.
“Under this unfair and unconstitutional program, the government has blacklisted their applications without telling them why and barred them from upgrading their immigration status in violation of the immigration laws,” she said in a statement.
The ACLU said the five plaintiffs were among thousands of U.S. residents of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian backgrounds who are similarly being blocked from citizenship, asylum, green cards and visas, without explanation.
The plaintiffs include Ahmad and Reem Muhanna, Palestinian Muslims and U.S. legal permanent residents whose 2007 citizenship application was denied in 2012 and is under appeal. Fellow plaintiff Ahmed Hassan, a Muslim refugee from Somalia, has been seeking legal permanent residency since 2006.
Plaintiff Neda Behmanesh, an Iranian married to a U.S. citizen, had her naturalization application denied even after passing a citizenship exam, while fellow Iranian Abrahim Mosavi first applied for citizenship in 2000 without success.
The ACLU says the plaintiffs do not know precisely why they have been scrutinized, and the lawsuit complains that immigrants denied under CARRP are not given a meaningful way to respond, in violation of due process guarantees enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.
CARRP includes anyone named on the U.S. Terrorist Watchlist, as well as others associated with those names, even without reliable information about that person's activities, the ACLU says.
A USCIS spokesperson declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said the CARRP system aims to give immigration officers the flexibility to manage a variety of cases.
The lawsuit comes a month after a federal judge ruled that the government's no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights was unconstitutional because it left them no way to contest that decision.
“Very much like the no-fly list, people are not told that they're subject to CARRP, that they've been labeled a national security concern, and that they're held up for that process,” Pasquarella said. “They must be told why, and given an opportunity to respond.”
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)