CAIRO - I joined the army to fight for other people's freedom, and I ended up losing my own.
These few words by specialist Yassine Bahammou, a Muslim translator, summed the problem of Muslim immigrants, whose US citizenship applications are put on hold for years for no apparent reason other than their faith, according to a report released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU)
Bahammou's story began when the Army promised him an expedited citizenship when he joined as an Arabic translator. He instead endured years of delay to become a citizen after unfounded accusations were made against him and other Muslim soldiers.
His story, similar to many other stories of Muslims, was revealed by ACLU in which it said that federal immigration officers were instructed to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern.
Under a previously-unknown national security program, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) secretly excludes many of those aspiring Americans from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities, ACLU said in a report published on its website on Wednesday, August 21.
USCIS has been blacklisting law-abiding applicants as national security concerns based on lawful religious activity, national origin, and innocuous associations. Once blacklisted, these aspiring Americans are barred from obtaining immigration benefits to which they are legally entitled.
Thousands of law-abiding immigrants have had their dreams of citizenship and other immigration status dashed, without ever being told why their applications were treated differently than others, the report added.
Same as Bahammou, Tarek Hamdi was granted naturalization by a federal district court eleven years after filing an application for citizenship.
I always played by the rules. I paid taxes, contributed to society and raised a beautiful family, Hamdi said.
The US government treated me differently in the citizenship process because I am a Muslim man. It was incredibly frustrating and truly demoralizing.
No person of faith, no honest man should have to face the discrimination I have, especially when striving to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, he added.
The leading civil rights group claims that federal immigration officers are instructed to find ways to deny applications that have been deemed a national security concern.
CARRP mandates that USCIS find a pretextual, statutory basis to deny any application blacklisted as a national security concern, even where the applicant is statutorily eligible for the benefit, ACLU report said.
Such denials are often facially implausible or otherwise unfounded, it added.
Officers then conduct additional research and put many cases on hold for long periods of time.
Most applications are eventually denied, as the program states that officers are not allowed to approve such cases without additional review, the report said.
It was not immediately clear how many immigrants have been reviewed under the program, which began in 2008 and is formally known as the CARRP.
Moreover, ACLU urged the US government to change review its program for citizenship to avoid targeting certain groups or faiths.
USCIS should rescind or substantially reform CARRP (Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program) to conform to existing immigration law, as well as basic standards of fairness and non-discrimination, ACLU said in its report.
Applicants must not be barred from obtaining immigration benefits for which they are legally eligible. In particular, USCIS must approve naturalization applications that meet the statutory criteria permitting naturalization.
Investigations of immigration benefits applications must be conducted expeditiously, with a general practice of adjudicating them within six months.
The United States is home to a Muslim minority of between six to eight million.
A survey, titled The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society, was published earlier this month by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The survey also finds that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world.
It shows that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.
An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.