Muslim Ban Sign

Wagafe v. USCIS - Lawsuit Challenging Secret Program Blocking Immigrant Applications

Status: Ongoing
Last Update: October 23, 2023

What's at Stake

The ACLU and its affiliates in Southern California and Washington, the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, the Law Offices of Stacy Tolchin, and Perkins Coie LLP filed a class action lawsuit in January 2017 challenging a federal government program used to deny or indefinitely delay thousands of law-abiding people—many of them from Muslim-majority countries—from becoming citizens or lawful residents due to unspecified “national security concerns.”

The lawsuit challenges the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), adopted in 2008 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), the agency within the Department of Homeland Security that reviews and adjudicates immigration applications. The case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, was brought on behalf of two certified classes: people who applied for either naturalization or adjustment of status, and whose applications were subject to CARRP and have been pending before USCIS for over six months.

The Constitution assigns to Congress, not the executive branch, the authority to establish uniform rules for naturalization of new citizens. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) sets forth those rules, along with criteria for becoming a lawful permanent resident of the United States. When those rules and criteria have been met, as they have in our clients’ cases, the government must grant the applications.

In adopting CARRP, USCIS has ignored these requirements and established a separate set of rules for applicants deemed to present a “national security concern.” CARRP’s definition of a “national security concern,” however, is far more expansive than the ineligibility criteria specified by Congress in the INA. For example, CARRP automatically applies to anyone whose name is on the government’s Terrorist Watchlist, which has been reported to include as many as a million names. The government’s guidelines for including people on the watchlist are vague and overbroad, particularly for non-citizens. A non-citizen can end up on the watchlist simply because he or she is “associated” with someone already on the watchlist, even where there is nothing to indicate any involvement in the watchlisted person’s purportedly suspicious activities. The guidelines also specifically state that non-citizens can be watchlisted based on fragmentary, uncorroborated information of questionable reliability. In this way, CARRP brands innocent, law-abiding U.S. residents, like our clients, as “national security concerns” based on innocuous activity and associations.

CARRP is illegal and unconstitutional. It was adopted without any congressional approval or public comment, and it violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process. The aspiring Americans whose applications the government denies under the program are not told why or given a meaningful opportunity to clear their names. This is fundamentally unfair.