USCIS inconsistent in database use, IG says


Officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have not been adequately monitoring and sharing information on potentially fraudulent immigration benefit applications by recording them in a central law enforcement database, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.

The applications in question are filed by U.S. citizens seeking permission for foreign-born spouses or other family members to receive U.S. immigration benefits. The IG’s office said the lax approach to adding the applications to the database could have helped fraudsters take advantage of immigration benefits.

According to the IG’s report, USCIS’ Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) Directorate did not consistently file I-130 and I-485 petitions suspected of fraudulent activity into the TECS database, formerly known as the Treasury Enforcement Communications System. The I-130 petition validates legal relationships such as marriage, while the I-485 begins the process of establishing permanent residency. More than 20 federal agencies share TECS, which maintains records related to border enforcement and travelers’ entry/exit activities. The system is linked to DHS' law enforcement facilities worldwide and accessible by federal, state and local entities.

In fiscal 2008 through 2011, the IG’s office found that USCIS denied or revoked 2,557 family-based I-130 petitions for fraud. Of those petitions, 622 were associated with an FDNS finding of fraud, but 302 of them (or 49 percent) did not have corresponding TECS records. At the same time, at the four USCIS offices the auditors studied, six of 29 family-based I-130 petitions associated with an FDNS finding of fraud (or 21 percent) did not have corresponding TECS records.

Additionally, the report states that USCIS rescinded 2,961 family-based I-485 petitions for fraud, with 522 associated with an FDNS finding of fraud, but 247 (or 47 percent) did not have corresponding TECS records. The report concludes that by not following long-established procedures to record, update and monitor fraud-related information, USCIS might have increased the risk that aliens committing fraud were granted access to immigration benefits or given additional opportunities to apply for them.

In a letter to DHS Deputy IG Charles Edwards, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said his agency had responded to the concerns and planned to issue stronger guidance to its fraud officials in June.

Mayorkas also addressed concerns that some aliens might have received unauthorized immigration benefits because of database entry errors. "Regardless of whether a case is recorded in a database as denied for fraud," he wrote, "the likelihood that an individual who previously engaged in fraud would successfully gain an immigration benefit in the future is remote."

He said the decision to grant additional benefits depends on a full file review. Prior fraudulent activities, whether verified and unverified, are recorded in case files. Although TECS records are an important tool, they are only one of many the agency uses to ferret out fraud, Mayorkas said.

IG report:

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer covering acquisition, procurement and homeland security. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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