LOS ANGELES -- Five people sued the federal government Thursday alleging that an expanded national security screen targeting Muslims has led to lengthy delays and denials in their citizenship and green card applications.
The lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California claims that the government doesn't allow immigration officers to approve benefits for applicants deemed a national security concern under a 2008 program. The Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program uses overly broad criteria and has tied up naturalization and green card applications filed by Palestinian, Iranian and Somali citizens, the lawsuit alleges.
"There's already mechanisms built into the law to ensure that people who present threats to our country do not obtain these benefits. What this program is doing is going far, far, far afield from these standards," said Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU staff attorney.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The agency could not immediately say how many people had been screened using this process. A spokesperson said the program helps immigration officers identify national security concerns when reviewing applications for benefits and determine how these concerns should be handled.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles, the program uses a wide range of criteria to label applicants a potential security concern, including traveling through regions where there is terrorist activity or the identities of a person's relatives or associates. Immigration officers are expected to deny applications filed by people flagged by the program, or delay making a decision as long as possible, the lawsuit alleges.
Plaintiff Ahmad Muhanna, a 54-year-old engineer, said he is perplexed by the delays. He and his wife applied for citizenship in 2007. After suing to get the government to move on their case, the Palestinian couple was denied in 2012 and appealed. They were interviewed and told they would hear within 60 days, but as of Thursday morning, the Richardson, Texas resident said he was told his case was still pending a background check.
"I have been living in the same house with the same phone number for 16 years," he said. "If you tell me this is national security to deny such a person and a family citizenship - that's ridiculous."