How many comedians have joked that all TSA agents have to do to keep air travel safe in the United States is prevent guys named Ahmed and Mohammad from boarding planes? It's a silly, tired and racist joke.

But it turns out U.S. authorities have been doing a version of that since 2008 by keeping folks of Muslim, Arab and South Asian background from becoming citizens or lawful immigrants:

That, at least, is the allegation today made by the ACLU of Southern California, which, along with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) and the law firm of Mayer Brown released a report documenting the federal government's “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program.”

The ACLU says the post-9/11 program made …

… it all but impossible for many Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern and South Asian individuals to become American citizens, or otherwise obtain legal residency or asylum status.

Of course, as the civil liberties group notes, that's not really legal. We're not supposed to be denying folks based on religion or ethnicity, though the government certainly has the right to create immigration quotas, and does:

The U.S. Constitution forbids USCIS from creating its own rules of citizenship and immigration, and reserves that power for Congress.

The ACLU says federal agents can blacklist applicants and deny them citizenship or advancement of legal status without letting them know and without due process.

The group says the potential newcomers are deemed dangers to national security, yet the government “simultaneously treats them as too harmless to expeditiously investigate, prosecute or deport.”

Lawyers' Committee attorney Paul R. Chavez calls the program ironically “un-American.” Jennie Pasquarella, an ACLU attorney and the lead author of the report, says:

Under CARRP, the immigration service has secretly written its own discriminatory immigration exclusion rules without the legal authority to do so and without the knowledge of Congress or the public. By relegating the applications of Muslim applicants to a deceptive program designed to deny them membership in our nation's community without fair process, the immigration service sends one strong message: 'Muslims need not apply.'

You can download the full report here.

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