One of the questions applicants for citizenship can be asked as part of the civics test which is part of the process of naturalization is, “What is the rule of law?” (Question 12). The possible answers are:
Everyone must follow the law.
Leaders must obey the law.
Government must obey the law.
No one is above the law.
Despite criticism of the answers, the question points to what we believe is a basic tenet in our society – that we are treated equally and fairly by our government. In the case of naturalization law, there is a fairly complex set of laws and regulations governing the requirements for naturalization – duration of U.S. residence, duration of permanent residence, good character, criminal history, willingness to swear allegiance to the country and to help the country if asked, knowledge of the English language, and civics knowledge. Applying Question 12 of the civics exam, one would expect that if a person meets these requirements, he can naturalize in the normal processing time for naturalization processing. Similarly, if an applicant for other immigration benefits such as permanent residence meets the requirements, he should receive that benefit in a normal period of time.
Unfortunately, the granting of immigration benefits is not subject to the rule of law. USCIS has a program called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CAARP). Essentially, the program stands for the proposition that if there is some indication you are a national security threat, no matter how remote or how insignificant, USCIS will stonewall granting you a benefit until you withdraw your application. Say you had a friend who was the friend of a bad guy and your name is an FBI report as a result. You may well become a victim of CARRP and never become a citizen. Say you gave to a charity you believed was to help people, but without your knowledge the charity also supported programs deemed terroristic in nature, you may well become a victim of CARRP and never become a citizen. Suppose you come from a country “disfavored” by the U.S. government, like Afghanistan, or a religion disfavored, like Islam, you may get caught up with CARRP and never get the benefit you seek.
Tamerlan Ysarnaev, according to a New York Times story, applied for U.S. citizenship in September 2012. His case was not decided and instead put on hold. My experience with several of what appear to be CARRP cases, is that USCIS calls this “extended review.” Now if there was some serious concern, one would expect some serious investigation and some resolution – either an all-clear or an arrest. Instead, these cases, of which there are thousands, just fester year after year.
When identified as a CARRP case, USCIS first scrutinizes the application to find some way to deny it – you left out on your applicationan address you lived at briefly or a job you had briefly four years ago, or you forgot to list a trip you took a decade ago or an organization you gave charity to in the ancient past, or failed to provide requested documents – like 10 year old bank statements. If USCIS cannot find some reason to deny the application, then the case just does not get decided. The applicant is not restrained from working or traveling. He is not put under surveillance. He just does not get his benefit.
One might say that in this case, CARRP worked. It prevented a dubious candidate – dubious because the Russians asked the FBI to interview him and he was a Muslim from a Muslim country – from becoming a citizen. However, the FBI interviewed him and found nothing dangerous about him at the time. The mere interview created the delay. Tamerlan’s case had only been delayed a few months, from September 2012. In the normal way things work, this is not an excessive delay. However, if this case was indeed a CARRP case, the delay would have been endless and all because the Russians asked the FBI to talk to him. If there had been more to the case, one would think some kind of move would have been taken in the last eight months – exoneration from suspicion or an arrest.
The delay in Tamerlan’s naturalization application shows that while the normal right under “the rule of law” to an immigration benefit can be delayed by something as simple as having been interviewed, though cleared, by the FBI, the program did nothing to enhance national security. It also may have helped Tamerlan believe that whatever the promise of America meant to him and his family, it did not mean he would be treated fairly by the government and in accord with the rule of law. What affect this ethnically, and religiously based discriminatory treatment had on him, we can only speculate. Posted April 21, 2013.