Senate Hearing Exposes Billion-Dollar Amnesty Slush Fund and Other USCIS Improprieties

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 6, 2015

On Tuesday, March 3, three senior USCIS managers appeared before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, chaired by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), to answer questions about the agency's implementation of the president's executive amnesties, the latest (and largest) of which is now held up by a legal challenge from 26 states. Their answers, together with other information provided to the subcommittee, confirm that USCIS has been hoarding fees paid by legal immigrants to subsidize the planned new executive amnesty for an estimated five million illegal aliens and failing to screen applicants adequately to prevent criminal aliens from obtaining benefits. In addition, the agency has created a pathway to citizenship for many of these illegal aliens.

The USCIS witnesses were Joseph Moore, the chief financial officer; Donald Neufeld, who manages the specialized service centers that remotely process certain applications; and Dan Renaud, who oversees the field offices where many family-based applications are processed.

USCIS Slush Fund for Amnesty. Moore revealed that USCIS has accumulated a "reserve fund" of unexpended revenues that now totals $1.2 billion (with a "B"). The agency has a policy to maintain a reserve balance of $600 million to help it manage in the event of revenue fluctuations, but USCIS is using these funds to launch the new executive amnesty programs (without any statutory authorization). One cannot help but wonder how this reserve fund got so big over the years, because by law USCIS is supposed to charge fees that reflect the exact cost of processing the benefits. Did they overcharge millions of legal applicants or cut corners on the processing of benefits? Both?

Sen. Tom Tillis (R-N.C.) asked why USCIS has not used its huge cash reserves to reduce the processing backlogs for legal applicants instead of setting up unconstitutional work permit programs for illegal aliens.

USCIS had already spent $11 million getting ready for the new executive amnesty until it was blocked by a federal judge in mid-February. About $7 million was spent to lease office space in Crystal City, Va., and those rent payments still need to be made whether the program goes forward or not. The total cost of the processing facility alone is estimated to be $26.2 million.

Before the program was stopped, USCIS had hired "one or two" people to work on the program and had made job offers to 360 others, which are now on hold. The plan is for the amnesty applications to be adjudicated by 700-800 brand-new employees, with no experience in evaluating immigration applications.

Extralegal Path to Citizenship. Renaud confirmed, under questioning from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), that USCIS is indeed inappropriately allowing some DACA grantees to get on a path to U.S. citizenship, despite President Obama's assertions that this would not happen. The agency is improperly granting some DACA applicants a benefit known as advance parole, which allows illegal aliens to travel out of the United States and return. When they return, they are admitted in the new lawful status of "parolee", and then become immune from the statutory penalties of their prior illegal presence and can be sponsored for a green card and ultimately become citizens. Under the law, advance parole may only be approved under certain narrow circumstances, but the administration has been allowing it (and openly advertising it on forms) in cases not permitted by the law.

Free Benefits for Dreamers. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked the witnesses why USCIS did not charge a fee for the processing of the DACA applications, and apparently had planned to approve applications for the new deferred action amnesty program (DAPA) at no charge. Unlike most applicants for legal benefits, illegal alien applicants for the deferred action amnesty pay only for the work permit and biometrics check, not for the deferred action status. Applicants in all of the legal categories have to pay for their status application and for the work permit and biometrics check. Sen. Cruz wondered if it struck anyone as "even remotely fair" to make legal visa and green card applicants pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars and yet charge these illegal aliens nothing.

Lax Screening Legalizes Criminals. Several lawmakers expressed concern about the lax screening of applications. It was noted that the documents that applicants are allowed to present are easily faked, and that no effort is made to verify anyone's claims. Interviews are not required. My sources tell me that the adjudicators typically review electronic copies of documents and may never see the originals.

The so-called "background check" is really just an automated fingerprint database check using the DHS and FBI systems, which are not entirely comprehensive. Biographic name checks for derogatory information in FBI investigative files are not done routinely.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) recited a list of crimes that would not necessarily disqualify an alien for DACA: child pornography, child abuse, assault, kidnapping, larceny, robbery, theft, and voter fraud. He asked the witnesses if they agreed that USCIS policy should be to refuse deferred action status and work permits to aliens convicted of domestic violence and sex offenders; none of the three witnesses would say "yes".

Several senators mentioned the recent case in Charlotte, N.C., in which a man who has been charged with murdering three people is alleged to have received DACA benefits. DHS has not yet responded to congressional requests for confirmation.