Immigration and citizenship are at the forefront of national security concerns this week, after at least two naturalized citizens carried out terrorist attacks in Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York. And now there’s some distressing news from Homeland Security.
8585 immigrants were granted citizenship recently, by the U.S. government–mistakenly. These 858 people are from countries “of concern” to national security. Some were being investigated for immigration fraud, or had deportation orders.
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The Homeland Security Department’s inspector general discovered the discrepancy. These individuals used false names and birth-dates. They weren’t caught because the database didn’t contain their fingerprints.
A statement from DHS said that some of these people in question may well have qualified for citizenship, and that there’s no indication that all 858 had committed fraud. The real number of fraudulent applications has not been disclosed.
The Inspector General auditors confirmed that all 858 were from “special interest countries.” The report did not name those countries.
This new discovery highlights an old problem for DHS. Many of its records are paper-based, and aren’t searchable in real-time. While vital pieces, like fingerprints, are being uploaded, it is a slow process.
The DHS report indicates some 315,000 immigrants schedules for deportation, or who are fugitive criminals have incomplete records. At least 148,000 of those files, by DHS’s count, are missing fingerprints.
After discovering the errors, DHS began investigating the cases. So far, they’ve closed 90 investigations. Two individuals have been stripped of their citizenship.
Why so few? The lag is, in part, due to jurisdiction questions within the U.S. immigration system. Federal prosecutors “generally did not accept immigration benefits fraud cases.” The bulk of the work belongs to ICE. ICE has delayed their investigations because the Justice Department has stepped in.
And it is the Justice Department’s involvement that highlights the areas of greatest concern. Once individuals have U.S. citizenship, they’re able to apply for that require security clearances. At least three of the new citizens secured jobs in the transportation industry, which gives them access to airports and ports.