Just days after the Obama administration leaked plans to admit 57% more refugees in 2017 compared to 2015, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General, John Roth, released a memo highlighting how the U.S. government mistakenly granted citizenship to at least 858 immigrants from "countries of concern to national security" who had pending deportation orders from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The report does not identify any of the immigrants by name, but, according to the Associated Press, 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.
Per the DHS release:
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.
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.
What's worse, the Homeland Security investigation found that at least a couple of these naturalized citizens obtained "sensitive" positions after being granted citizenship. One person was found to be working in law enforcement while 3 others received security clearance to access secure areas of commercial airports and maritime facilities.
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.
Finally, as if this is really any surprise, the DHS reports that, despite filing deportation charges, ICE officials "did not pursue investigation and subsequent revocation of citizenship" because the DOJ refused to prosecute the cases leaving ICE officials to "focus their resources on investigating cases the [DOJ] would prosecute."
According to ICE, it previously did not pursue investigation and subsequent revocation of citizenship for most of these individuals because the USAO generally did not accept immigration benefit fraud cases for criminal prosecution. ICE staff told us they needed to focus their resources on investigating cases the USAO will prosecute. In late 2015, however, ICE officials told us they discussed with the Department of Justice Office of Immigration Litigation the need to prosecute these types of cases, and that office agreed to prosecute individuals with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) credentials, security clearances, positions of public trust, or criminal histories. 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.
The DHS said the "mistakes" occurred because applicants used different names or birthdates to apply for citizenship and such discrepancies weren't caught because of old paper-based records that prevented immigration officials from searching fingerprints electronically.
So does that imply that when faced with the dilemma of not being able to verify fingerprints the default decision of U.S. immigration officials was simply to grant U.S. citizenship?
All that said, we continue to have the utmost confidence that our federal government can thoroughly vet incoming refugees to exclude any potential immigrants looking to carry out terrorist acts in our country.
The full report from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General can be read below: