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Immigration fraud
'out of control'

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The General Accounting Office has concluded that immigration fraud is rampant, even helping to open the door for terrorism, and that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has no idea how to get it under control.

In a report released Feb. 15, GAO concluded that immigration benefit fraud is “pervasive and significant and will increase as smugglers and other criminal enterprises use fraud as another means of bringing illegal aliens, including criminal aliens, into the country.”

“INS does not know the extent of the immigration benefit fraud problem,” says the report.

“INS officials working on benefit fraud issues in the offices we visited indicated that fraud is a major problem,” said GAO. “For example, fraud unit officials in the Los Angeles District Office said that immigration benefit fraud is rampant across the country. A Miami fraud unit official stated that fraud is out of control.”

Immigration “benefits” include everything the INS has the power to grant foreign nationals – from green cards to U.S. citizenship. INS fraud falls into two categories: using fake documents, and lying on an application for a green card or U.S. citizenship.

The GAO depicts the INS as having no real strategy for enforcing immigration laws against aliens who have already entered the United States.

“INS has not established guidance for opening immigration benefit fraud investigations or for prioritizing investigative leads,” says GAO. “Without such criteria, INS cannot be assured that the highest-priority cases are investigated and resources are used optimally.”

When perpetrators of fraud are caught, little is done to them. The usual penalty for immigration fraud is a denial of benefits, not criminal prosecution.

Aliens often apply multiple times for a benefit, hoping one INS official will approve what another has rejected. This is possible because INS offices cannot readily communicate.

“Some information, including the results of adjudications, is available to other adjudicators in the same service center but only through a complicated, time-consuming process,” says GAO. “However, this information is not available to adjudicators in other service centers until the information system is updated, which happens monthly.”

“Officials told us that as a result, ineligible aliens who are denied benefits at one service center can apply for and receive benefits at another service center,” said GAO.

INS has four service centers nationally that process large volumes of benefit applications, but the computers at these centers cannot communicate with those at local district offices.

In 2000, the INS had a backlog of four million applications. So, the agency’s emphasis has been on processing the largest number of applications as possible, not on processing them correctly.

“The goal of providing immigration benefits in a timely manner to those who are legally entitled to them may conflict with the goal of preserving the integrity of the legal immigration system,” said GAO.

The bureaucratic sloppiness leads to opportunities for terrorists.

“In May 1999,” says GAO, “the acting deputy executive associate commissioner for the Immigration Services Division testified … that criminal aliens and terrorists manipulate the benefit application process to facilitate expansion of their illegal activities, such as crimes of violence, narcotics trafficking, terrorism and entitlement fraud.”

The report referred fleetingly to the actual case of a terrorist who fraudulently obtained permanent legal residence in the United States. “One INS official told us that the approval in New York of a criminal alien terrorist’s application for legal permanent residence might have occurred because the adjudicator was not aware of the alien’s criminal history,” said the GAO report. “This situation helped convince INS headquarters that service centers should have access to other agencies’ and each others’ information.”

The GAO investigation was conducted at the request of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Immigration and Claims Subcommittee Chairman George Gekas, R-Pa.

“Based on this report, I’m not confident that the INS isn’t giving green cards to al-Qaida operatives,” said Sensenbrenner.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said, “The problems at INS pre-date President Bush’s watch, but if he is serious about homeland security, he had better address this Achilles’ heel of America’s national security.”

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