The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yesterday "Federal Immigration Official Originally from Nigeria Charged with Illegally Obtaining U.S. Citizenship under Fake Identity". While this little-noticed headline sounds like satire from The Onion, it is an embarrassingly real example of the flaws and failures of our immigration vetting.
According to DOJ, Modestus Nwagubwu Ifemembi, originally of Nigeria, was arrested in Maryland on a federal charge that he obtained U.S. citizenship under a false name. According to the unsealed complaint, Ifemembi first entered the United States in 2000 on a flight from France to Chicago using a stolen British passport that he had altered with his own photo. While Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials detected the fraud, which Ifemembi admitted when confronted, he nonetheless was granted asylum after falsely claiming his real name was "Karlos Mourfy" of Sierra Leone.
After obtaining asylum, Ifemembi, still posing as "Karlos Mourfy", was able to adjust status to lawful permanent resident (green card) and applied for U.S. citizenship in 2010. At the time of applying to naturalize, he requested to have his name changed to "Karlos Ifemembi". His U.S. citizenship and name change were approved in May 2011.
The story gets worse for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency responsible for administering the nation's lawful immigration system. Not only was Ifemembi able to dupe adjudicators to obtain multiple immigration benefits, the agency subsequently hired him in 2013 as an immigration services officer. You can't make this stuff up.
This screening and vetting failure raises numerous questions, including:
- How did INS fail to discover that Ifemembi was from Nigeria and not Sierra Leone when he applied for asylum after trying to get into the U.S. with a doctored British passport?
- How did USCIS fail to discover the fraud when he subsequently applied to adjust status?
- How did USCIS under then-Director Mayorkas's tenure fail to discover the fraud when it approved his naturalization ins 2011?
- How did Ifemembi pass background and security checks when USCIS hired him, again during Mayorkas's tenure?
- What was Ifemembi's portfolio as a USCIS immigration officer? Will all of his prior casework be reviewed?
- Given Mayorkas's "get to yes" approach to immigration benefits, did political leadership overrule the red flags identified by career officials?
- As DHS Secretary, will Mayorkas ensure that Ifemembi is denaturalized promptly upon conviction?
- Will the Biden administration deport Ifemembi?