United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) granted US citizenship to more than 800 individuals with deportation orders after their fingerprint records could not be located, according to an audit released Monday by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The federal watchdog’s report revealed that not all paper-based fingerprint records were uploaded and digitized when DHS transitioned to a digital fingerprint repository, the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT). In fact, IDENT is missing 148,000 digitized fingerprint records of aliens with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives.
Although Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), one of DHS’s predecessor agencies, created IDENT in 1994, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigators only began consistently uploading fingerprints into the repository around 2010.
It is USCIS policy to deny naturalization to any applicant who has received a final deportation order and there are no other circumstances to provide eligibility. By granting citizenship to these individuals, they are eligible to serve in law enforcement, obtain a security clearance, and sponsor other aliens intending to enter the United States.
“Because IDENT does not include 148,000 digitized fingerprint records of aliens with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives, USCIS adjudicators may continue in the future to review and grant applications without full knowledge of applicants’ immigration and criminal histories,” the report stated.
Furthermore, DHS’s digital fingerprint repository is capable of exchanging information with the FBI’s repository. However, the FBI’s database is incomplete because not all paper-based fingerprint records were sent to the FBI.
“As long as the older fingerprint records have not been digitized and included in the repositories, USCIS risks making naturalization decisions without complete information and, as a result, naturalizing more individuals who may be ineligible for citizenship or who may be trying to obtain US citizenship fraudulently,” the report stated.
DHS concurred with the Inspector General’s recommendation to upload and digitize all remaining fingerprint cards and establish a plan for evaluating the eligibility of each naturalized citizen whose fingerprint records reveal deportation orders under a different identity.