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Biden Must Restore Citizenship for Black and Brown People

The hand of a seated person holding a miniature U.S. flag and immigration information at a naturalization ceremony.
This blog is the sixth in a series outlining a reimagined, just, and humane immigration system for the United States.
The hand of a seated person holding a miniature U.S. flag and immigration information at a naturalization ceremony.
Manar Waheed,
Senior Legislative and Advocacy Counsel,
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December 11, 2020

President Trump’s relentless destruction of our immigration system is well documented. However, the myriad ways in which he attacked and targeted Black and Brown people seeking immigration benefits or citizenship, and even U.S. citizens is less discussed. 
There have been three substantial attacks on citizenship for Black and Brown immigrants:

  1. Indefinite delays of immigration benefits, including citizenship, through the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP), which has targeted Muslims and people from Muslim-majority countries since 2008;
  2. Blocking the expedited path to citizenship for non-citizen U.S. military members; and 
  3. Escalated denaturalization efforts, including passport revocation. 

President-elect Biden must eliminate these barriers and attacks on citizenship immediately.

Terminate discriminatory programs that prevent Muslims from obtaining benefits, including citizenship

CARRP is an egregious program that prevents thousands of eligible individuals and their families from obtaining immigration benefits, including citizenship. This program prohibits the approval of applications for naturalization, green cards, asylum, refugee status, and many other immigration benefits to anyone USCIS flags as a possible “national security concern,” regardless of an individual’s eligibility for the benefit. CARRP — which was never approved by Congress — profiles immigrants from predominantly Muslim-majority countries as “concerns” based on national origin and derails their applications indefinitely. This “concern” may be based upon mere suspicion and subjective criteria such as national origin, associations, professions, and viewpoints, including trips to their country of birth or origin, or even their retweets on social media. Applicants are never informed of the issue or able to respond — a blatant violation of fundamental fairness and due process. 
Since CARRP began, tens of thousands of applications have been denied or delayed for years, leaving many unable to naturalize. From 2008 to 2016, USCIS reported CARRP’s use in over 41,800 immigration applications, with people from India, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen as the top five countries of origin impacted. This program disproportionately affects Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian people. In fact, most people subjected to this program are from Muslim-majority countries. Others, including applicants from China, report being treated as suspicious, particularly during times of political or diplomatic tension.
Biden must end CARRP, institute uniform standards for all applicants, and return all applications stalled in CARRP to the normal process, so that Muslims and other applicants have access to immigration benefits under his presidency. 

Restore expedited citizenship for military members

For more than 200 years, Congress has incentivized non-citizens to join the military by rewarding them with an expedited path to citizenship. Citizenship is not just a valuable recruitment tool; it is a moral imperative embedded in our history, values, and laws. The Trump administration attempted to destroy that imperative by preventing the enlistment of non-citizens and thwarting their naturalization and access to rights and privileges that accompany U.S. citizenship.
The Department of Defense (DoD) introduced policy changes impeding immigrants from enlisting and naturalizing expeditiously. It also eliminated the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, through which non-citizens with critical medical or linguistic skills, including DACA recipients, could enlist and earn their citizenship. In addition, the administration ended USCIS’ Naturalization at Basic Training Initiative, which facilitated new recruits’ naturalization during basic training, and closed naturalization centers at basic training locations. Under Trump, numerous overseas USCIS offices used by military service members closed, and USCIS refused to process applications of deported veterans eligible for naturalization.
As a result of Trump’s policies, tens of thousands of service members were stuck in limbo: unable to ship to basic training, be deployed, or start their assignment; unable to begin their naturalization process; uncertain of their future in the country they swore to defend. From fiscal year 2017 to 2018, the number of military naturalization applications dropped 72 percent. Simultaneously, the rate of USCIS denials of military naturalization applications rose from 7 to 20 percent. 
It is critical that the Biden-Harris administration restore access to citizenship for military members by rescinding these DoD policies, restoring MAVNI, suspending deportation of service members and veterans, and returning to policies that honor and reward service.

Dismantle New Denaturalization Structures and Suspend All Cases Pending an Evaluation 

Historically, denaturalization occurred rarely and was an extraordinary measure used against human rights violators. The Trump administration, however, targeted people for denaturalization at an escalating rate, discarding long-standing legal norms and protections. It expanded these efforts within agencies, opening new denaturalization offices within the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, and effectively stripped people of citizenship as the State Department denied and revoked U.S. passports.
Civil denaturalization, a tool rarely used before — with no statute of limitations, no right to appointed counsel, and a lesser burden of proof than criminal proceedings — skyrocketed under the Trump administration, with filings three times higher than the yearly average of the last eight administrations. People from Bangladesh, India, Haiti, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan have been targeted at high rates for civil denaturalization, indicating a pattern consistent with the administration’s fear-based narrative against Black and Brown people. Criminal denaturalizations also rose to an average of 51 per year.
It is critical that the Biden administration suspend these denaturalization efforts pending further evaluation, put in place priorities and limitations on denaturalization, and eliminate the offices and additional infrastructure created by Trump. Biden must ensure that all U.S. citizens are equal under the law and able to act on their rights and responsibilities without fear. 

These attacks by the Trump administration are a clear attempt to prevent immigrants from becoming citizens and strip U.S. citizens of their status, thereby ensuring the associated rights, including voting, are inaccessible to Black and Brown people. President-elect Biden must restore access to our existing immigration system for all people — regardless of race or religion. Black and Brown people seeking immigration benefits, to serve our country, or to live their lives as U.S. citizens cannot wait any longer. None of us can.

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