INS Criminal Record Verification: Information on Process for Citizenship Applicants

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-06-04.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

      United States
GAO   General Accounting Office
      Washington, D.C. 20548

      General Government Division


      June 4, 1997

      The Honorable Spencer Abraham
      Chairman, Subcommittee on Immigration
      Committee on the Judiciary
      U.S. Senate

      Subject:   INS Criminal Record Verification:   Information on Process for
                 Citizenshin Annlicants

      Dear Mr. Chairman:

      On May 1, 1997, I testified before your Subcommittee on the Immigration and
      Naturalization Service’s (INS) practices for fingerprinting and criminal record
      checks on applicants for naturalization and related matters (Naturalization of
      Aliens: INS Internal Controls, GAO/T-GGD-97-98). Following the hearing, you
      asked us to answer a number of questions from you and Senator Kennedy
      regarding INS’ responses to the recommendations we made in our 1994 report
      (INS Fingernrinting of Aliens: Efforts to Ensure Authenticitv of Aliens’
      Fingernrints, GAO/GGD-95-40, Dec. 22, 1994), and for our views on Senator
      Kennedy’s proposals to INS to improve the naturalization program.

      Our responses to your questions are provided in the enclosure to this letter. In
      developing our response, we (1) used information in the Department of Justice
      Office of Inspector General report (Alien Fingerprint Reauirements in the
      Immigration and Naturalization Service, Feb. 16, 1994), and our December 1994
      report, (2) met with Department of Justice officials, (3) reviewed the April 17,
      1997, report by Peat Marwick on INS’ implementation of changes to its
      naturalization process,’ and (4) used data obtained in connection with our
      ongoing review of aliens who INS improperly naturalized despite their felony

      ‘Immigration and Naturalization Service Naturalization Qua&v Procedures
      Imnlementation Review Final Report, Apr. 17, 1997.
                                           GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
We hope this information is helpful to you. We are sending a copy of this letter
to Senator Kennedy and will make it available to other interested parties on
request. If you have any further questions or wish to discuss these responses,
please contact James M. Blume of my staff on (202) 512-8643, or me on (202)

Sincerely yours,

Richard M. Stana
Acting Associate Director
Administration of Justice Issues

Enclosures - 2

                                      GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
    ENCLOSURE I                                                        ENCLOSURE I

                          AND GAO’S RESPONSES

(1) You indicate in your written     testimony   that in 1994 the GAO had
made certain recommendations      to the INS with respect to the fingerprint
check and criminal record verification     process, and that the INS agreed
to implement    GAO’s recommendations.       Those recommendations
included, among others, that INS obtain results from the FBI on all of its
criminal record and flngerprint   checks and that INS monitor the district
offices’ compliance with INS directives.

(a)    With which INS officials were which specific        problems   discussed      and
       when did those discussions take place?

       Answer: After providing INS with a copy of our draft report, we obtained
       their oral comments on November 9, 1994. The draft report included all
       the problems we identified in our audit of the fingerprint process,
       including the need for INS to obtain results from the FBI on all of its
       criminal record and fingerprint checks and to monitor district offices’
       compliance with INS directives. We met with the following INS
       representatives: the Acting Associate Commissioner for Examinations,
       who was responsible for INS’ adjudication of applications, which requires
       aliens to be fingerprinted; the Assistant Director for Analysis and
       Evaluation and the Audit Liaison, Office of Internal Audit; Acting Assistant
       Commissioner Administration; Director, Operations and Support Programs
       Branch, and stz@ Assistant Commissioner, Information Resource
       Management, Data Systems, and staff from Data Systems, Enforcement
       Systems Branch; staff person from Information Resource Management,
       Systems Integration, Systems Policy and Planning Branch; and Special
       Assistant to Executive Associate Commissioner, Field Operations. In
       addition to INS officials at the meeting, representatives from the
       Department of Justice (Justice Management Division) and the Office of
       Inspector General were present.

(b)    Which officials agreed to implement   which      recommendations,       and
       how did they agree to implement    them?

       Answer: At the November 9, 1994, meeting, officials (those listed above)
       who were speaking for INS, agreed with our findings, conclusions, and
       recommendations. Also, they provided clarifications and technical
       corrections, which we included in the report. At the meeting, however,
       the INS officials did not provide details on the specific actions that would
       be taken to address our recommendations or who would be responsible
       for their implementation.

                                       GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
 ENCLOSURE I                                                         ENCLOSURE I

(c)   To what extent did the INS follow     through    on any commitments        to
      implement  GAO’s recommendations?

      Answer:     As part of our follow-up procedures for open recommendations,
      we continued to monitor INS’ progress in implementing our
      recommendations. On September 27, 1996, INS’ Office of Examinations
      issued a memorandum dealing with benefits-related fingerprint clearance
      policy. The September 1996 policy addressed certain problems associated
      with its fingerprint procedures but did not respond to the specific
      recommendations in our December 1994 report (GAO/GGD-95-40). A
      November 29, 1996, memorandum from the Office of the Commissioner on
      naturalization quality procedures, if fully implemented, should go a long
      way toward responding to our recommendations. The Commissioner’s
      memorandum instructed INS’ field units to not complete naturalization
      cases until a definitive response had been received from the FBI. In
      addition, INS established a process to be used to review field office
      operations (INSpect). However, the Peat Mar-wick report showed that INS
      had not ensured that its field units were carrying out the Commissioner’s
      November 1996 instructions. It also highlighted the need for INS to do a
      better job of monitoring its field offices to ensure that they are properly
      and completely meeting the Commissioner’s instructions.

(d)   Did you discuss any other recommendations     with       anyone   else at INS
      and, if so, what was INS’s response to those?

      Answer:    No. The November 9, 1994, discussion with INS officials
      regarding our draft report was the only discussion we had with INS
      officials about our recommendations dealing with fingerprint procedures.
      However, since our report was a follow-up to the Office of Inspector
      General’s report, we also discussed action INS was taking overall with
      respect to its fingerprint procedures. On November 9, 1994, we met
      separately with FBI officials to also discuss our report with them.

                                      GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
ENCLOSURE II                                                          ENCLOSURE lI

                          AND GAO’S RESPONSES

(1) I recently sent a letter to Commissioner      Meissner with some of my
suggestions on where the naturalization     program should head. You
should have received a copy of this letter., What are your comments on
my naturalization  proposal ? Do you agree with these goals? Is there
anything you would add to the proposal?

     Answer: Senator Kennedy’s proposal included steps to improve the
     efficiency, accuracy, and oversight of the naturalization program and to
     encourage innovation and future progress. Specifically, the naturalization
     plan would set goals for efficiency, accuracy, oversight and innovation.
     We note two items in the plan that may need further consideration.

     -     First, the establishment of an efficiency goal to complete the entire
           naturalization process of a qualified legal permanent resident in 6
           months or less may not be consistent with the goal of having the
           fingerprint process as accurate and secure as possible, at a given level
           of resources. While establishing performance goals can be constructive
           and provide managers with performance targets, time-driven goals may
           result in too much emphasis on time without giving appropriate weight
           to quality and accuracy of the adjudication process. Our work has
           indicated that the combination of increased volume of applications and
           the desire to process them as quickly as possible without adequate
           attention to accuracy and quality contributed to the recent problems
           with the naturalization process. Thus, it appears that any timeliness
           goal may need to explicitly contain accuracy and quality components
           that are measurable. Such a goal would be more meaningful if it were
           set using actual performance-related data, recognizing available
           resources. Moreover, our experiences with these and similar
           processing procedures suggests such goals may need to be periodically
           reviewed and revised.

         - Second, the centralization of the naturalization process to facilitate
           effective oversight of the fingerprint procedures, including the
           Designated Fingerprint Services Program (DFS),’ naturalization testing
           centers, and final INS interviews, could improve the internal controls
           over naturalization. However, centralization may also present some
           obstacles. Aliens would have to travel to an INS office to be
           fingerprinted and tested. Such travel could prove difficult for those
           aliens not located near an INS office. Also, scheduling times for testing

“Under DFS, INS certifies entities as providers of fingerprint services for INS.
                                       GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
ENCLOSURE II                                                       ENCLOSURE II

        and iingerprinting could be difficult. There have been reports that
        aliens, in some cases, already had problems contacting INS to have
        questions answered and schedule interview times with INS. Requiring
        aliens to go to an INS office for fingerprinting and testing may worsen
        an already difficult situation. Also, INS may not have adequate space
        in some of its offices to fingerprint and test aliens and therefore,
        requiring aliens to use INS offices for fingerprinting and testing could
        cause overcrowding.

(2) In my letter to Commissioner       Meissner, I also suggested two
safeguards for the DFS program, which are that fingerprint       cards should
be sent directly to the FBI by DFS sites and that organizations
authorized  to take fingerprints   under DFS should be limited to INS, law
enforcement    agencies, and nonprofit    organizations under the close
supervision   of INS. In light of the KPMG review of the DFS system, do
you think my proposals would be more effective in mitigating        against
fraudulent  applications?

     Answer: Having DFS send fingerprint cards directly to the FBI could
     affect INS’ ability to determine whether it had received a definitive
     response from the FBI on the results of the check on the alien’s criminal
     history record. First, the FFM may not know to which INS office to send
     the results of the check on the criminal history records. Second, INS may
     have trouble matching aliens who submitted (or did not submit) a
     naturalization application with those aliens who had (or had not) had their
     fingerprints taken. Third, the FBI could have difficulty knowing whom to
     inform (DFS organization and/or INS) about rejected fingerprint cards.

     Limiting the DFS organizations that are authorized to take fingerprints
     could result in an insufficient number of DFS organizations available for
     aliens in certain locations to go to for fingerprinting. We do not know
     whether the elimination of for-profit organizations would improve
     safeguards because we are not aware of data that show they were more
     likely to be susceptible to fraud or poor quality fingerprinting than were
     other organizations.

                                     GAO/GGD-97-118R INS Criminal Record Verification
ENCLOSURE II                                                        ENCLOSURE II

(3) There has been an unprecedented       effort to sort out the events of
last year, to determine who should not have been naturalized,      and how
naturalization  should be conducted in the future.     Everyone on this panel
has been intimately   involved in this process. This panel consists of
experts on last year’s events. In your opinion, is there anything more
that should be done that isn’t being done already to get the
naturalization  program on sure footing?

     Answer:    In our opinion, if implemented effectively, the November 29,
      1996, memorandum from the Office of the Commissioner on naturalization
     quality procedures should go a long way toward addressing past problems.
     Also, the final report by Peat Marwick and the naturalization reengineering
     study to be done by Coopers and Lybrand may provide INS with useful
     information and insights regarding the naturalization process.

     In addition, INS top management would have to continually monitor the
     field units to help ensure that INS’policy is being properly carried out.
     INSpect, which is to be used to review field operations, has the potential,
     if fully implemented, to identify field offices’ compliance with INS policy.


                                      GAO/GGD-97-118RINS Criminal Record Verification
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