oversight

Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly Naturalized

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-03-05.

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

                          United States General Accounting Office

GAO                       Testimony
                          Before the National Security, International Affairs and
                          Criminal Justice Subcommittee,
                          Committee on Government Reform and Oversight,
                          and Immigration and Claims Subcommittee,
                          Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m.
on Wednesday
                          NATURALIZATION OF
March 5, 1997
                          ALIENS

                          Assessment of the Extent to
                          Which Aliens Were
                          Improperly Naturalized
                          Statement of Laurie E. Ekstrand
                          Associate Director, Administration of Justice Issues
                          General Government Division




GAO/T-GGD-97-51
Summary

Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
Naturalized
               Between September 1995 and September 1996, the Immigration and
               Naturalization Service (INS) received about 1.3 million naturalization
               applications; almost 1.05 million aliens were naturalized. During that
               period, INS initiated a number of efforts to streamline the naturalization
               process. While these efforts greatly increased the volume of applications
               processed and approved, the Department of Justice has identified errors in
               the naturalization process. Concerns have been raised that INS may have
               improperly naturalized aliens with felony convictions. For example, for
               about 180,000 aliens applying for naturalization, INS did not receive the
               results of a criminal history records check from the Federal Bureau of
               Investigation (FBI), even though aliens with criminal history records (e.g.,
               certain felony convictions) may be barred from becoming naturalized
               citizens. This might have resulted in some aliens with criminal felony
               convictions improperly becoming naturalized citizens. Changes in the
               naturalization process to address this problem have since been made.

               According to the Department of Justice, of the almost 1.05 million aliens
               who were naturalized between September 1995 and September 1996, two
               significant groups include (1) 71,557 aliens who had criminal history
               records with the FBI and (2) 179,524 aliens whose fingerprint cards were
               unclassifiable by the FBI or whose records for other reasons may not have
               been checked by the FBI for their criminal history.

               The Department of Justice’s Justice Management Division (JMD) and INS
               are reviewing records to determine the extent to which aliens were
               improperly naturalized. JMD has contracted with KPMG Peat Marwick LLP
               (Peat Marwick) to assist in overseeing this determination. Peat Marwick is
               to perform a number of tasks intended to assess INS’ determination of the
               extent to which criminal aliens were erroneously naturalized. The
               Subcommittees have asked GAO to assess the soundness of Peat Marwick’s
               methodologies for carrying out these tasks and its plans for implementing
               these methodologies.




               Page 1                                                       GAO/T-GGD-97-51
Statement

Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
Naturalized
               Messrs. Chairmen and Members of the Subcommittees:

               I am pleased to be here today to discuss our efforts to assist your
               Subcommittees in the determination of the extent to which the
               Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) might have improperly
               naturalized aliens between September 1995 and September 1996.

               Between September 1995 and September 1996, INS received about
               1.3 million naturalization applications; almost 1.05 million aliens were
               naturalized. During that period, INS initiated a number of efforts to
               streamline the naturalization process. While these efforts greatly increased
               the volume of applications processed and approved, the Department of
               Justice (DOJ) has identified errors in the naturalization process. These
               errors might have resulted in some aliens with certain disqualifying
               criminal felony convictions improperly becoming naturalized citizens.

               In November 1996, INS made changes in the naturalization process
               intended to address this problem. In addition, INS is reviewing records of a
               subset of the aliens who were naturalized during this period to determine
               the extent to which aliens were improperly naturalized. JMD has contracted
               with KPMG Peat Marwick LLP (Peat Marwick) to oversee this
               determination and to review INS’ controls over the naturalization process.

               At your request, we will review and comment on Peat Marwick’s
               methodology and implementation plans for overseeing INS’ review of the
               records of aliens with felony charges. My testimony today will discuss our
               plans in this regard and our progress to date. To prepare this statement,
               we reviewed prior GAO and DOJ Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports
               and obtained data from and interviewed DOJ, INS, and Peat Marwick
               officials in Washington, D.C. The DOJ OIG has told us that it also plans to
               closely monitor INS’ naturalization project and may perform additional
               reviews as it deems appropriate.


               INS requires that aliens applying for naturalization submit fingerprint cards
Background     with their applications. The fingerprint cards are to include a complete set
               of fingerprints and other identifying information, such as name and date of
               birth.1 INS is to send each fingerprint card to the FBI to determine if an alien
               has a criminal history record on file.2 Depending on the severity and timing

               1
                According to INS, this requirement applies to aliens between the ages of 14 and 75.
               2
                INS charges a fee to process aliens’ applications. Included in the fee is a charge by the FBI for
               checking its records for a possible criminal history of the alien.



               Page 2                                                                               GAO/T-GGD-97-51
Statement
Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
Naturalized




of their felony convictions, aliens with criminal history records may be
denied citizenship. Aliens applying for naturalization are to be scheduled
for hearings after they submit their applications. According to INS officials,
the hearing dates are generally to be set to allow adequate time for the FBI
to complete criminal history checks and to return the results (for aliens
with arrest records) to INS.

After INS accepts an alien’s application, a clerk in an INS field unit is to
separate the fingerprint card from the application and mail the card to the
FBI. According to the FBI, it checks the fingerprint card (but not the
fingerprints at this point) to determine if the alien’s name, gender, and date
of birth, as well as the name of the originating INS district office, have been
completed. If any of the information is missing, the FBI is to reject the card
and return it to the originating INS office, if known, with an explanation for
the rejection. It is our understanding that the FBI does not record the
receipt and return of rejected fingerprint cards. INS officials are to submit a
new fingerprint card to the FBI if the original fingerprint card was rejected
because of missing background information.

If the background information on the fingerprint card is complete, the FBI
is to check the fingerprints against its criminal history database, which
contains the names of over 30 million people. Under its previous
procedures, if a match was found, the FBI was to mail a copy of the
criminal history record and the fingerprint card to the originating INS
office. Under INS’ June 1996 procedures to centralize the receipt of FBI
criminal history checks, the FBI is now to send the results to INS’ Nebraska
Service Center, which is to provide the results to the originating office.

FBI officials said that, until recently, if the fingerprint check did not
disclose any match, they—per INS’ request—did not send any record back
to INS. According to an INS official, under its policy, if a response was not
received from the FBI within a given time period, its examiners were to
construe that the FBI found no criminal background. The net result is that
INS examiners did not have any positive means of determining the status of
an FBI fingerprint check or telling why the files did not contain criminal
history records. There were several possible reasons why files might not
contain criminal history records: (1) the FBI did not find a match, (2) the
matching process was still in progress, or (3) the match was not requested
by INS or was lost.

The FBI is also to reject fingerprint cards if one or more of the prints are
illegible and is to return the rejected cards to INS with an explanation of



Page 3                                                         GAO/T-GGD-97-51
                    Statement
                    Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
                    Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
                    Naturalized




                    their rejection. If the fingerprints are illegible, the FBI says it will still run a
                    name check comparing the alien’s name and other identifying background
                    information with the names in its criminal history database.3 INS officials
                    are to submit a new fingerprint card with a new set of fingerprints to the
                    FBI if the fingerprints on the original card were rejected.


                    On November 29, 1996, INS issued instructions for how its employees are to
                    implement revised naturalization procedures that are intended to enhance
                    and monitor the quality of the naturalization process. Under the revised
                    procedures, no naturalization cases are to be scheduled for interview or
                    oath ceremony until a definitive response has been received from the FBI
                    regarding the criminal history record search. The response should be that
                    the alien either has or does not have a criminal history record. INS is
                    working on several procedures intended to better ensure that all cases
                    have cleared FBI processing and that INS officers have sufficient
                    information to accurately adjudicate applications in relation to aliens’
                    criminal histories.


                    Prior DOJ OIG and GAO audit reports have identified problems related to the
Prior OIG and GAO   naturalization process. In February 1994, the DOJ OIG reported that INS did
Reports             not verify that fingerprints submitted by applicants for naturalization and
                    permanent residency actually belonged to the aliens who submitted them.4
                     The report also pointed out that INS examiners had inappropriately
                    approved some applications after assuming that applicants had no
                    criminal history because no criminal history records were included in the
                    aliens’ files when they adjudicated the cases. The OIG report also found
                    that INS frequently did not submit new sets of fingerprints to the FBI when
                    the original sets of prints were rejected by the FBI as illegible.

                    In our December 1994 report, we also pointed out that INS examiners
                    approved an alien’s application after assuming, sometimes incorrectly, that
                    criminal history checks had been completed when no record appeared in
                    the alien’s file.5 Such an assumption could prove to be incorrect because
                    the results of criminal history reports might have been delayed or not filed
                    in a timely manner. We found that under INS’ procedures at the time of our


                    3
                     If through the name check an alien is found to have a criminal history, that information is to be sent to
                    INS. However, although a name-based check is helpful, it is not as definitive as a fingerprint check.
                    4
                     U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General, Alien Fingerprint Requirements in the
                    Immigration and Naturalization Service (Feb. 16, 1994).
                    5
                      INS Fingerprinting of Aliens: Efforts to Ensure Authenticity of Aliens’ Fingerprints (GAO/GGD-95-40,
                    Dec. 22, 1994).



                    Page 4                                                                                 GAO/T-GGD-97-51
                          Statement
                          Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
                          Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
                          Naturalized




                          review, examiners could not determine whether FBI fingerprint checks had
                          been completed because, at INS’ request, the FBI returned a report only if a
                          criminal history record was found. We pointed out that the assumption
                          that the absence of a report meant there was no criminal history could be
                          incorrect. According to INS district officials, without a control to ensure
                          that the FBI had completed a fingerprint check, aliens with criminal history
                          records (e.g., certain felony convictions) had had their naturalization
                          applications inappropriately approved.


                          According to INS records, 1,049,872 aliens were naturalized between
Data on Aliens            September 1995 and September 1996. On the basis of available DOJ data as
Naturalized Between       of January 14, 1997, of those aliens:
September 1995 and
                      •   71,557 aliens had criminal history records with the FBI;6
September 1996        •   752,073 aliens had no criminal history records with the FBI;
                      •   113,126 aliens’ fingerprint cards were rejected by the FBI because the cards
                          were unclassifiable;
                      •   66,398 aliens’ records were not documented as having been received by
                          the FBI for criminal history checks;
                      •   44,145 aliens were not between the ages of 14 and 75, and therefore were
                          not required to submit fingerprint cards with their naturalization
                          applications; and
                      •   2,573 aliens’ records were still being reviewed by the FBI.7

                          Of the 71,557 aliens with criminal history records, INS’ ongoing review, as
                          of January 14, 1997, had identified about 10,800 as possibly having felony
                          charges. This number could increase as INS continues its review of these
                          records. The aliens with criminal history records who do not have felony
                          charges may have been charged with or convicted of (1) misdemeanors or
                          (2) administrative violations (e.g., working without authorization), neither
                          of which would preclude them from becoming naturalized citizens.




                          6
                            Included in the group of 71,557 aliens with criminal history records were 445 aliens not between the
                          ages of 14 and 75, despite the fact that INS does not require criminal history checks for these
                          individuals.
                          7
                           To develop these numbers of aliens, INS used its databases to identify all naturalized aliens for the
                          period, and the FBI used its database of INS requests for possible criminal histories of aliens. The FBI
                          and INS compared their respective databases to identify the above groups of aliens. As INS completes
                          its review of the almost 1.05 million naturalized alien files and its database match with the FBI, the
                          number may change.



                          Page 5                                                                              GAO/T-GGD-97-51
                     Statement
                     Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
                     Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
                     Naturalized




                     INS adjudicators, under the oversight of Peat Marwick, are reviewing the
Peat Marwick’s       current files of aliens with felony charges to determine whether these files
Activities and Our   contain any information that now would disqualify the aliens for
Role                 naturalization.8 According to JMD officials, under its contract with JMD, Peat
                     Marwick is to perform a number of tasks. First, Peat Marwick designed the
                     approach and implementation plan for INS’ review of the files of the
                     estimated 10,800 aliens with felony charges to determine whether they
                     were properly naturalized. Second, Peat Marwick is to oversee a
                     subsequent review by immigration judges of 1,000 of these felony and
                     other naturalization cases to help substantiate INS’ adjudicatory review.
                     Third, Peat Marwick is to take a random sample of about 6,000 naturalized
                     aliens from the almost 1.05 million naturalized to validate INS’ review of the
                     procedural steps it followed in its original adjudication. According to JMD
                     officials, this will enable a determination of whether the naturalization
                     requirements were applied consistent with the Immigration and
                     Nationality Act and INS policies and procedures.

                     Our role in assisting your Subcommittees will be to review Peat Marwick’s
                     methodologies to carry out these tasks and its plans to implement these
                     methodologies. As this work progresses, we plan to provide comments to
                     Peat Marwick, DOJ, and your Subcommittees on an ongoing basis. To this
                     end, we have been meeting with your Subcommittees to fully understand
                     the most important questions you want to be addressed. We have also met
                     with Peat Marwick staff to discuss methodological and sampling issues.

                     With regard to the sampling of the universe of cases, we will review Peat
                     Marwick’s sampling plans and comment on the degree to which those
                     plans correspond to the Subcommittees’ needs for information.
                     Specifically, we will review the sampling plan and comment on the extent
                     to which it will provide information about two significant groups. These
                     groups are (1) the aliens whose fingerprint cards were rejected by the FBI
                     because the cards were unclassifiable (for example, illegible) and (2) the
                     aliens for whom the FBI said it did not receive fingerprint cards from INS for
                     criminal history checks.

                     On the basis of our work to date, Peat Marwick’s methodology and
                     implementation plans for the review of the records of naturalized aliens
                     with felony charges appear to have the potential to produce useful data for
                     the Subcommittees’ oversight. We plan to visit INS’ Nebraska Service
                     Center to observe this work in progress. This visit will provide us with a
                     snapshot of how this work is being implemented.

                     8
                      The review is being done at INS’ Nebraska Service Center.



                     Page 6                                                        GAO/T-GGD-97-51
                  Statement
                  Naturalization of Aliens: Assessment of the
                  Extent to Which Aliens Were Improperly
                  Naturalized




                  We have agreed to provide the Subcommittees with our overall comments
                  shortly after the completion of our review of Peat Marwick’s work, which
                  is scheduled to be completed by early June 1997. To date, DOJ and Peat
                  Marwick have been very cooperative in response to our requests for
                  information and receptive to our comments.


                  We discussed a draft of this statement with DOJ and Peat Marwick officials.
Agency Comments   We incorporated their comments where appropriate.


                  Messrs. Chairmen, this concludes my prepared statement. I would be
                  pleased to answer any questions.




(183611)          Page 7                                                      GAO/T-GGD-97-51
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