LOS ANGELES (CN) - The United States violates its own immigration laws through an under-the-radar "blacklist" that denies citizenship, green cards and political asylum to thousands of people, including innocent people placed on a terrorist watch list, longtime legal-resident Muslims claim in Federal Court.
Lead plaintiff Reem Muhanna, et al. claim that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has consistently denied their applications for citizenship and lawful permanent residence after secretly blacklisting them as "'national security concerns,'" though they pose no threat to the United States.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on July 31 against the USCIS, the Department of Homeland Security, and a slew of their national and regional officers.
The plaintiffs claim that the Citizenship and Immigration Service uses obscure rules, under a program known as the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), to delay or deny applications.
"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," ACLU attorney Jennie Pasquarella said in a statement.
The plaintiffs ask the court to order Uncle Sam to judicially settle their applications for citizenship and permanent residence, as required under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The executive branch of the government does not have the authority to set rules on citizenship and permanent residence, the plaintiffs say.
"Since 2008, however, USCIS has used CARRP - an internal policy that has neither been approved by Congress nor subjected to public notice and comment - to investigate and adjudicate applications deemed to present potential 'national security concerns.' CARRP prohibits USCIS field officers from approving an application with a potential 'national security concern,' instead directing officers to deny the application or delay adjudication - often indefinitely - in violation of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act]", the lawsuit states.
The ACLU claims says the CARRP program uses "expansive" and "overbroad" criteria, including "deeply flawed" data from the government's Terrorist Watch List .
"The CARRP definition casts a net so wide that it brands innocent, law-abiding residents, like plaintiffs - none of whom pose a security threat - as 'national security concerns' on account of innocuous activity and associations, and characteristics such as national origin," the complaint states.
The ACLU claims that as many as 1 million names are the Terrorist Watch List or Terrorist Screening Database - "many of whom present no threat to the United States."
A person can end up on the list based on a vague association with a person the government suspects of terrorist activity, or sometimes because of human error.
"In 2013 alone, the watchlisting community nominated 468,749 individuals to the TSDB [Terrorist Screening Database], and the TSC [Terrorist Screening Center] rejected only approximately one percent of those nominations. In 2009, the Government Accountability Office found that 35 percent of the nominations to the TSDB were outdated, and that tens of thousands of names had been placed on the list without an adequate factual basis," the complaint states.
The U.S. government will neither confirm nor deny if a person is on the list. The ACLU says that some people learn of their inclusion while traveling.
Airplane boarding passes for watch list subjects include an "SSSS" identifier, according to the lawsuit, and subjects are often subjected to inspections during travel.
"Such individuals are also often unable to check in for flights online or at airline electronic kiosks at the airport," the complaint states.
The ACLU says that it can't be sure how many applications are denied or delayed based on the criteria. But it says the immigration service's own data from fiscal years 2008 to 2012 make clear that 19,000 people's applications went through the resolution program.
The subjects were all from Muslim nations or regions, according to the complaint.
The government may deny an application based on charitable donations to organizations that finance terrorist activities or groups, even if a person does not know that his or her contribution is being used for that purpose, the ACLU says.
Applications are denied if a person's name appears in law enforcement or intelligence agency file - "even if they were never the subject of an investigation," according to ACLU.
The lawsuit adds: "For example, an applicant's name could appear in a law enforcement file in connection with a national security investigation because he or she once gave a voluntary interview to an FBI agent, he or she attended a mosque that was the subject of FBI surveillance, or he or she knew or was associated with someone under investigation."
The plaintiffs want the government enjoined from using the CARRP program, and declaratory judgment that it violates the Fifth Amendment guarantee of due process.