DHS Audit Finds 858 Immigrants Likely Granted Citizenship in Error

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an audit which revealed more than 800 immigrants from "special interest" countries were improperly vetted.

Published Sep 19, 2016

On 19 September 2016, the Associated Press reported a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) audit had identified 858 immigrants potentially granted citizenship despite discrepancies in their records that weren't caught because their fingerprints were missing from government databases:

The U.S. government has mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants from countries of concern to national security or with high rates of immigration fraud who had pending deportation orders, according to an internal Homeland Security audit.

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general found that the immigrants used different names or birthdates to apply for citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and such discrepancies weren't caught because their fingerprints were missing from government databases.

The report does not identify any of the immigrants by name, but Inspector General John Roth's auditors said they were all from "special interest countries" — those that present a national security concern for the United States — or neighboring countries with high rates of immigration fraud. The report did not identify those countries.

The report (dated 8 September 2016) was titled "Potentially Ineligible Individuals Have Been Granted U.S. Citizenship Because of Incomplete Fingerprint Records." The stated purpose of the audit (conducted between July 2014 and December 2015) was to determine whether records (including fingerprints) were being thoroughly assessed during the process of naturalizing potential citizens process. According to DHS findings, the audit identified 858 individuals improperly approved for naturalization due to an "information gap" between paper and digitized records (primarily involving fingerprints):

[U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)] granted 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.

Further, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has identified, about 148,000 older fingerprint records that have not been digitized of aliens with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives ... As long as the older fingerprint records have not been digitized and included in the repositories, USCIS risks making naturalization decisions without complete information and, as a result, naturalizing additional individuals who may be ineligible for citizenship or who may be trying to obtain U.S. citizenship fraudulently.

The audit maintained that the 858 naturalized immigrants in question were granted citizenship despite previous deportation or removal orders that had been issued against them under different identities, due to a lack of fingerprint identification records:

USCIS granted 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 in the DHS digital fingerprint repository, IDENT. Although USCIS procedures require checking applicants’ fingerprints against both IDENT and NGI, neither repository has all the old fingerprint records available. IDENT is missing records because when they were developing it, neither DHS nor the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), one of its predecessor agencies, digitized and uploaded all old fingerprint records into the repository

A "Background" section of the report stated that the individuals counted in the report emigrated from unspecified "special interest countr[ies]":

In 2008, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employee identified 206 aliens who had received final deportation orders and subsequently used a different biographic identity, such as a name and date of birth, to obtain an immigration benefit (e.g., legal permanent resident status or citizenship). These aliens came from two special interest countries and two other countries that shared borders with a special interest country. After further research, in 2009, CBP provided the results of Operation Targeting Groups of Inadmissible Subjects, now referred to as Operation Janus, to DHS ... In 2010, DHS’ Office of Operations Coordination (OPS) began coordinating the Operation Janus working group.

In July 2014, OPS provided the Office of Inspector General (OIG) with the names of individuals it had identified as coming from special interest countries or neighboring countries with high rates of immigration fraud, had final deportation orders under another identity, and had become naturalized U.S. citizens. OIG’s review of the list of names revealed some were duplicates, which resulted in a final number of 1,029 individuals. Of the 1,029 individuals reported, 858 did not have a digital fingerprint record available in the DHS fingerprint repository at the time U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was reviewing and adjudicating their applications for U.S. citizenship ... If USCIS confirms that an applicant received a final deportation order under a different identity, and there are no other circumstances to provide eligibility, USCIS policy requires denial of naturalization. Also, USCIS may refer the applicant’s case to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for investigation. Likewise, if a naturalized citizen is discovered to have been ineligible for citizenship, ICE may investigate the circumstances and refer the case to the Department of Justice for revocation of citizenship.

DHS added that having been naturalized, the 858 individuals in question were since entitled to the same treatment under law as natural-born citizens. At least one of the individuals counted in the figure worked in law enforcement, and three others obtained security clearances. Of the 858 naturalized citizens identified, 120 were prioritized for further review and potential denaturalization or revocation of citizenship:

Some of these naturalized citizens may have attempted to defraud the U.S. Government. Yet, having been naturalized, they have many of the rights and privileges of U.S. citizens, including the right to petition for others to come to the United States and the right to work in law enforcement. For example, one U.S. citizen whom Operation Janus identified is now a law enforcement official. Naturalized U.S. citizens may also obtain security clearances or work in sensitive positions. Until they were identified and had their credentials revoked, three of these naturalized citizens obtained licenses to conduct security-sensitive work. One had obtained a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, which allows unescorted access to secure areas of maritime facilities and vessels. Two others received Aviation Workers’ credentials, which allow access to secure areas of commercial airports.

Under the INA, a Federal court may revoke naturalization (denaturalize) through a civil or criminal proceeding if the citizenship was obtained through fraud or misrepresentation. However, few of these individuals have been investigated and subsequently denaturalized. As it identified these 1,029 individuals, OPS referred the cases to ICE for investigation. As of March 2015, ICE had closed 90 investigations of these individuals and had 32 open investigations.

To date, and with assistance from OPS and USCIS, ICE has identified and prioritized 120 individuals to refer to the Department of Justice for potential criminal prosecution and denaturalization.

On social media, some users claimed that all 858 individuals were originally slated for deportation due to "national security concerns":

However, the report did not specify whether the deportation orders were security-related or were issued for a variety of other potential reasons, such as overstaying travel visas.

The AP obtained a statement from DHS about the report, which noted that fingerprint records weren't consistently compiled until 2010:

In an emailed statement, the Department of Homeland Security said the findings reflect what has long been a problem for immigration officials — old paper-based records containing fingerprint information that can't be searched electronically. DHS says immigration officials are in the process of uploading these files and that officials will review "every file" identified as a case of possible fraud.

Roth's report said fingerprints are missing from federal databases for as many as 315,000 immigrants with final deportation orders or who are fugitive criminals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has not reviewed about 148,000 of those immigrants' files to add fingerprints to the digital record.

The gap was created because older, paper records were never added to fingerprint databases created by both the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service and the FBI in the 1990s. ICE, the DHS agency responsible for finding and deporting immigrants living in the country illegally, didn't consistently add digital fingerprint records of immigrants whom agents encountered until 2010.

DHS stated in the audit that a team had been established to review the immigration records of the "858 aliens with final deportation orders who were naturalized under a different identity," adding that an additional 953 cases identified more recently would concurrently be reviewed. The DHS investigators will determine "which individuals appear to have been ineligible for naturalization and ... coordinate with [the Department of Justice] for possible prosecution and denaturalization."

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.

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