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AMEMSA Communities: A Federal Program is Delaying & Denying Immigration. Know Your Rights

September 19, 2022 Perspective

Each year, a little-known and secretive federal program called the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program,” or CARRP, indefinitely delays or denies an unknown number of people’s immigration benefits applications, including for citizenship, permanent residency, and asylum, without legal basis. According to research by the ACLU of Southern California and our own work with community members and clients in California, these applicants are primarily Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA).

CARRP, like dozens others we document in a recent memo to the Biden administration, is rooted in an unjust and bigoted assumption that AMEMSA communities are inherently suspect because of their religion or national origin.

In the face of such exclusionary and discriminatory national security programs, our team provides free legal services to AMEMSA communities throughout the Bay Area. At mosques and community centers, we share know-your-rights resources and provide informational sessions to help people figure out if their immigration applications are delayed because of programs like CARRP. Unaware that their applications may have been secretly marked for CARRP, community members often come to us years after they initially applied, only to learn about the program and its impacts for the first time.

Two Asian Law Caucus staff and three Bay Area community members stand together behind a table with know-your-rights materials and a white banner with the ALC logo on it.

Asian Law Caucus staff visit a Bay Area mosque during Ramadan to help community members learn and assert their civil rights.

Recently, one of our clients waited three years after he was interviewed for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to approve his naturalization application. While it can be nearly impossible to ever uncover the reasons why our clients' applications are subject to CARRP, we believe our client endured this delay because he is a Yemeni national and practicing Muslim, and because a close relative who was convicted of a crime — effectively rendering our client suspicious by association in the government's eyes. Still, after we filed a lawsuit on his behalf, USCIS approved his naturalization application within weeks. We also recently represented a client who helped the U.S. government in Afghanistan and dealt with a similar opaque delay and seemingly endless background checks.

With such lack of government transparency about CARRP and how it is used, community members often have no recourse to challenge unjust and evidence-less decisions. That’s why our team is constantly monitoring, investigating, and filing public records requests. Through this diligence, we’re able to get a better look at what’s really going on and use that information to equip community members to know their rights and find the help they need.

For instance, at mosques and other community gathering places, we share information on how someone can tell if their naturalization or immigration applications are being delayed because of CARRP. Some initial areas of consideration include:

  • whether someone's country of origin is a majority-Muslim country or which has a significant Muslim population, like Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, or Bangladesh;
  • whether someone has past or current involvement with religious or political organizations, especially in their country of origin or another Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian country;
  • whether someone is saliently practicing Islam, including traveling for pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Iraq, being involved in a local mosque or religious institution, or being vocal on, e.g., social media about faith, U.S. foreign policy, or politics in the Middle East or Muslim world; and
  • together with some or all of the factors above, whether someone has faced a significant delay in their immigration benefit application, e.g. over 18 months to be called for an interview or for a decision to be made.
Two community members stand close together and hold signs that say "Refugees Welcome" and "Come for One, Face Us All."

Community members protesting racial and religious targeting by the U.S. government, including the Muslim & African Bans. (les talusan)

If you or someone you know believes their immigration application may be subject to CARRP, call us for help at 415-896-1701.

ALC’s national security & civil rights team is continuing to document other egregious federal programs that violate community members’ civil liberties through unjustified and ineffective surveillance and profiling. With this documentation, community members are also reaching out to their elected representatives to share the reality of how biased federal policies have harmed their lives and weakened our national commitments to equality, diversity, and justice. Learn more about these programs and our recommendations to policymakers to dismantle bigotry and invest in community safety and healing.

Additional Resources: Find more community education resources, including what to do if your U.S. passport is revoked and how to protect your digital privacy at U.S. borders.