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Why Were the Immigration Files on Tamerlan Tsarnaev So Heavily Redacted?

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COMMENT: In FTR #773, among oth­er pro­grams and posts, we not­ed that the Boston Marathon bomb­ing appears to have been blow­back from ongo­ing covert “ops” using Islamist proxy war­riors in the Earth Island. The heavy cen­sor­ship of Tamer­lan Tsar­naev’s immi­gra­tion files rein­forces the sus­pi­cion that there is infor­ma­tion about the bombers that is too sen­si­tive to be released.

Only 206 of the 751 pages of the immi­gra­tion file on Tsar­naev and his friend Ibrag­im Toda­shev were released in their entire­ty. 

“Fed­eral Files Leave Ques­tions about Marathon bomber, Friend” by Maria Sac­chetti; Boston Globe; 2/29/2016.

Gov­ern­ment says it han­dled their immi­gra­tion cas­es prop­erly; files are heav­ily edit­ed

Tamer­lan Tsar­naev passed the US cit­i­zen­ship test three months before he and his younger broth­er det­o­nated two bombs at the Boston Marathon, accord­ing to fed­eral immi­gra­tion records obtained under the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act.

His test results, with cor­rect answers to ques­tions about slav­ery, the Con­sti­tu­tion, and the Louisiana Pur­chase, are in 651 pages of pre­vi­ously con­fi­den­tial files on the bomber and his friend Ibrag­im Toda­shev. Both men were killed in sep­a­rate inci­dents after the April 15, 2013, bomb­ings.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity pro­vided redact­ed files to The Boston Globe after mul­ti­ple requests span­ning three years. Only 206 pages were released in their entire­ty, so it remains unclear why the gov­ern­ment grant­ed the friends legal res­i­dency and put them on the path toward US cit­i­zen­ship.

But the records show that months before the bomb­ings, Tsar­naev went to the John F. Kennedy Fed­eral Build­ing in Boston, swore his alle­giance to the Unit­ed States, and denied any links to ter­ror­ism. The records also show that Toda­shev told immi­gra­tion offi­cials he had left Mass­a­chu­setts in Sep­tem­ber 2011, the same month he alleged­ly helpedTsar­naev kill three men in Waltham.

Until now, the gov­ern­ment had declined to release the files, cit­ing ongo­ing crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions. But the mys­tery stirred debate about why immi­gra­tion offi­cials grant­ed Tsar­naev and Toda­shev refuge in the first place, and whether offi­cials missed warn­ing signs about their crim­i­nal activ­ity as their cas­es pro­gressed through US Cit­i­zen­ship and Immi­gra­tion Ser­vices.

On Sun­day, the agency issued a state­ment say­ing the cas­es were processed cor­rect­ly.


If fed­eral offi­cials raised secu­rity con­cerns about Tamer­lan Tsar­naev or Toda­shev, they did not dis­close them in the heav­ily redact­ed immi­gra­tion files. Instead, the files sketch a por­trait of Tsar­naev and Toda­shev, both eth­nic Chechens from Rus­sia, as men strug­gling with unem­ploy­ment and pover­ty while try­ing to cement their ties to the Unit­ed States, Tsar­naev through cit­i­zen­ship and Toda­shev through a green card. They had so lit­tle income that the gov­ern­ment waived their immi­gra­tion appli­ca­tion fees, offi­cials said.

Tamer­lan Tsar­naev came to Amer­ica as a teenag­er in 2003, after secur­ing a visa in Turkey. His fam­ily had bounced between Kyr­gyzs­tan, Kaza­khstan, and Dages­tan in south­ern Rus­sia before set­tling in Cam­bridge.

In August 2012, after a 178-day trip to Rus­sia, Tsar­naev stopped by the Cam­bridge office of Cen­tro Lati­no, a now-defunct non­profit, for help in apply­ing for cit­i­zen­ship. He did not stand out; the orga­ni­za­tion helped hun­dreds of immi­grants of all back­grounds fill out the forms every year.


In his appli­ca­tion, Tsar­naev wrote that he want­ed to change his first name to that of an ear­ly Islam­ic schol­ar, Muaz— a move crit­ics lat­er said should have spurred the gov­ern­ment to inves­ti­gate fur­ther. He also dis­closed a 2009 arrest for assault­ing a for­mer girl­friend, and that he was receiv­ing gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits and had recent­ly trav­eled over­seas.

On Jan. 23, 2013, immi­gra­tion offi­cer David McCor­mack inter­viewed Tsar­naev and test­ed his Eng­lish and knowl­edge of US his­tory and gov­ern­ment. He answered six civics ques­tions cor­rectly to pass: He knew that Africans had been slaves, that there are 27 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments, and that the Unit­ed States bought Louisiana from the French in 1803. He also iden­ti­fied “Joe Biden” as the vice pres­i­dent, said Con­gress makes fed­eral laws, and that the colonists fought the British over “high tax­es.” He cor­rectly read a ques­tion about vot­ing and wrote the answer: “Cit­i­zens can vote.”

His sole error was to say that the fed­eral court, and not the Supreme Court, is the high­est court in the Unit­ed States.

After­ward, the immi­gra­tion offi­cer checked the box next to the sen­tence that said: “You passed the tests of Eng­lish and US his­tory and gov­ern­ment.”

But instead of mark­ing the box that said, “Con­grat­u­la­tions! Your appli­ca­tion has been rec­om­mended for approval,” the offi­cer checked the next box, which said, “A deci­sion can­not yet be made about your appli­ca­tion.”

Rea­sons for the delay are unclear in the file pro­vided to the Globe. Ear­lier, a fed­eral report had saidthat Tsarnaev’s cit­i­zen­ship appli­ca­tion was delayed because the gov­ern­ment did not have his crim­i­nal court records from the 2009 case.

But those records are in the file pro­vided to the Globe. Home­land Secu­rity con­firmed on Sun­day that records in the file obtained by the Globe show that Tsar­naev fur­nished those records to the immi­gra­tion offi­cer and that the offi­cer had rec­om­mended him for cit­i­zen­ship, pend­ing a supervisor’s review because of his crim­i­nal his­to­ry.

All that stood between him and US cit­i­zen­ship was a supervisor’s approval, which was required, and a final swear­ing-in cer­e­mo­ny.

Todashev’s file shows he applied for a green card twice. He received asy­lum short­ly after arriv­ing in the Unit­ed States in 2008 from Rus­sia. The file shows he lived in Penn­syl­va­nia, Geor­gia, and Mass­a­chu­setts, stay­ing in Chelsea, Water­town, Cam­bridge, and final­ly All­ston before mov­ing to Flori­da.

In May 2011, a top immi­gra­tion offi­cial in Atlanta, Paul Onyan­go, denied his green card appli­ca­tion because Toda­shev had not pro­vided court records from a crim­i­nal road-rage inci­dent in Boston. The offi­cial said he would not refer Toda­shev for depor­ta­tion, how­ever, which Home­land Secu­rity said was typ­i­cal in such sit­u­a­tions.

The next year, Toda­shev tried again. He was issued a green card on Feb. 5, 2013, accord­ing to Home­land Secu­rity. But short­ly after the bomb­ings, a top immi­gra­tion offi­cial sent the Boston immi­gra­tion office a memo titled “with­hold­ing of adju­di­ca­tion” — sug­gest­ing a shift in his case.

The rea­son is unclear, because the record is redact­ed.


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