On September 8, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) issued an audit report titled "Potentially Ineligible Individuals Have Been Granted U.S. Citizenship Because of Incomplete Fingerprint Records".
The report drew immediate attention from the media and innumerable other observers, including members of Congress, because of its primary finding: that the DHS agency responsible for administering immigration benefits, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS),
[G]ranted U.S. citizenship to at least 858 individuals ordered deported or removed under another identity when, during the naturalization process, their digital fingerprint records were not available. The digital records were not available because although USCIS procedures require checking applicants' fingerprints against both the Department of Homeland Security's and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) digital fingerprint repositories, neither contains all old fingerprint records.
In point of fact, the 858 cited above is low. When read in totality, the report actually indicates that, after scrubbing to remove duplicates, 1,029 individuals were identified as having scammed the system — only 858 of those, though, were because of lack of digitized fingerprints. We have no clue how the other 171 got away with their naturalization fraud.
What's more, after the initial batch, another 953 were identified. This makes for a grand total of 1,982 aliens who fraudulently obtained naturalization, all of them from "special interest" countries or neighboring countries with high rates of immigration fraud. Special interest nations are those whose nationals pose significant risk to the United States due to terrorism.
USCIS and DHS officials have blamed incomplete fingerprint records for the lapse. The fingerprint records reside in two key databases: DHS's own IDENT system, which contains the biometric data of both immigration violators and applicants for admission or benefits, and the FBI's Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which subsumed and expanded on the FBI's previous IAFIS system. As the OIG explains, both repositories are incomplete, either because some inked fingerprint cards that were taken prior to the modern digital age were never subsequently scanned, digitized, and entered into the systems (almost certainly true for DHS, but denied by the FBI), or because in the past enforcement officials in the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) failed to ink arrested aliens' fingers, complete the cards, and send them to the FBI in pre-IDENT days. If they had done so, then they would have resulted in a kickback during the naturalization process — that kickback being in the form of a "rap sheet" return showing the prior INS arrests, which at least ostensibly would have alerted the USCIS officials to an adverse immigration history.
From my own nearly 30 years experience as an immigration officer, the claim that fingerprints were not taken in all enforcement actions resulting in arrest and ultimate deportation strains credibility to the breaking point. I never knew of such a case within my working experience. If it happened, it would have been not only a lapse, but a shocking rarity. Part of the process of arrest inevitably included booking the alien: taking photos, fingerprinting on a red FBI arrest card showing the charge "dep proc" (deportation proceedings), recording biographical data, and preparing an arrest report and charging document. The arrest reports required supervisory review and the charging documents had to be approved and signed even higher up, by a select few designated senior officers. So for the fingerprinting not to have taken place would have implicated several levels of increasingly senior supervisory and managerial field office officials. More likely is that the prints were deemed "unclassifiable" by FBI technicians at the time; this was something that could happen when prints were too smudged and the whorls, loops and other distinctive marks not as crisp as required to classify them. But most seasoned officers were alert to this possibility, and took care to insist that arrestees clean their hands before being printed to eliminate surface oils, etc., and then rolled and inspected the prints attentively.
In describing why there are old fingerprints that were never subsequently scanned and digitized into the IDENT system for future matching (as should have happened in these 1,982 cases), the OIG says,
ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, another DHS agency] has led an effort to digitize old fingerprint records that were taken on cards and upload them into IDENT. In 2011, ICE searched a DHS database for aliens who were fugitives, convicted criminals, or had final deportation orders dating back to 1990. ICE identified about 315,000 such aliens whose fingerprint records were not in IDENT. Because fingerprints are no longer taken on paper cards, this number will not grow. In 2012, DHS received $5 million from Congress to pull its paper fingerprint cards from aliens' files and digitize and upload them into IDENT, through an ICE-led project called the Historical Fingerprint Enrollment (HFE). Through HFE, ICE began digitizing the old fingerprint cards of the 315,000 aliens with final deportation orders, criminal convictions, or fugitive status and uploading them into IDENT. The process was labor intensive, requiring staff to manually pull the fingerprint cards from aliens' files. ICE reviewed 167,000 aliens' files and uploaded fingerprint records into IDENT before HFE funding was depleted.
This explanation too, begets more questions than it answers:
- Simply saying that ICE "did not receive further funding" to complete the digitizing job begs the issue. Our sources tell us that neither ICE nor DHS ever requested additional funding through the appropriations process when the money ran out. Why didn't they, and why didn't the OIG ask or report on that?
- Given the obvious fact that (as the OIG report makes painfully, abundantly clear) more than one DHS component would have benefited from the digitization effort, when ICE funding ran out why wasn't USCIS ordered by the DHS secretary to dip into that giant slush fund, the Immigration Examinations Fee Account, to make up the shortfall? USCIS is sitting on well over a billion dollars in that account right now. Using the Immigration Examinations Fee Account to digitize fingerprints seems to me a better, more honest, use of the money than funding extra-statutory and constitutionally dubious "executive action" programs like DACA and CAM, "entrepreneur paroles", etc. that have so richly benefited from the fee fund. A few million dollars would have finished digitizing the prints and the money could have been available overnight because Congress doesn't control the account, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson does.
- What is going on right now to rectify the situation? What steps are DHS and the Justice Department jointly taking to revoke these fraudulent naturalizations and criminally prosecute the fraudsters who obtained the benefits by lying about the names and/or their dates of birth, and withheld the critical information relating to their orders of removal? I gather that the answer to this is, sadly, "not much." Some news sources say prosecutors have accepted only two out of 28 referrals.
Why only two acceptances? Why only 28 referrals? The naturalization application form, N-400 and its accompanying instructions seem pretty clear to me. The first three items in the instructions tell the applicant to provide his legal name and all other names used, in order to cover aliases and prevent aliens from playing games with their names to avoid being detected.
There are also questions in Part 9 of the form asking for very detailed information about when the alien was last outside the United States, which obviously would cover prior deportations if the applicants tell the truth — and if they don't and conceal their absence from the country, shouldn't that form the basis for a criminal prosecution? After all, how could you not say you were outside the United States if you were removed?
Then there is question 23 in Section 12: "Have you EVER been arrested by any law enforcement officer (including any immigration official or any official of the U.S. armed forces) for any reason?" (Emphasis in original.) You can't get much clearer than that.
- Finally, we have to ask ourselves this: If this outrage is what happened just for the period reviewed by DHS OIG in the course of its audit, what conclusions can we reach about what's happening right now, with USCIS's ongoing push to naturalize tens of thousands of people in time for the election? It can't possibly be good, can it? Shades of Citizenship USA! There is the possibility that all kinds of security threats and felons are fraudulently becoming citizens, not that they much care at DHS, I suppose, since that's within the acceptable boundaries of risk for the administration's "transformative" agenda.
So much for the DHS mission statement: "Our duties are wide-ranging, and our goal is clear — keeping America safe."
It's all rather remarkable and shabby.