From Fiscal Year 2012 through FY 2016, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit found the majority of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system user agencies that received a SAVE response prompting them to institute additional verification did not complete the required additional steps to verify the benefit applicant’s immigration status.
GAO said, “Millions of applicants for healthcare, licenses and other benefits rely on [the] SAVE system to verify their immigration or naturalized or derived citizenship status at the request of over 1,000 federal, state and local user agencies [which] use the information from SAVE to help determine an applicant’s eligibility for benefits. Programs required or authorized to participate include Medicaid, certain license-issuing programs (such as driver’s licenses), federal food and housing assistance, and educational programs.”
GAO said USCIS “has taken steps to assess the accuracy of the information reported by its SAVE system,” such as conducted monthly checks since 2014 “to ensure SAVE is accurately reporting information contained in its source systems. In addition, USCIS reports that SAVE status verifiers, who manually research a benefit applicant’s immigration status during a process known as additional verification, accurately reported the applicant’s status 99 percent of the time.”
Still, GAO reported, “USCIS does not have sufficient controls to help ensure agencies are completing the necessary steps because of inconsistent guidance, and lacks reasonable assurance that SAVE user agencies have completed training that explains this procedure. Improving guidance and ensuring training on verification requirements could help USCIS better ensure agencies have complete and accurate information for making eligibility determinations.”
GAO said USCIS has taken actions to protect the privacy of personal information related to SAVE, such as requiring SAVE user agencies to sign a memorandum of agreement (MOA) stating the intended use of the system and provisions for safeguarding information.
“USCIS has also established mechanisms for access, correction and redress regarding use of an individual’s personal information. “However, GAO said its audit “found these mechanisms were largely ineffective and unlikely to enable benefit applicants to make timely record corrections. Specifically, USCIS provides a fact sheet for benefit applicants stating their immigration status could not be verified, along with information on contacting DHS to update or correct their records. However, the fact sheet’s guidance on contacting DHS was not specific or clear, which could hinder benefit applicants’ efforts to contact [the] Department of Homeland Security [DHS].”
“Without an effective method for ensuring individuals can access and correct their information, benefit applicants may face challenges ensuring accurate information is used in a SAVE check and appealing potentially erroneous denials of benefits with the user agency in a timely manner,” GAO found.
USCIS’s SAVE Monitoring and Compliance (M&C) branch monitors user agencies’ use of SAVE in accordance with their MOA, but “SAVE M&C’s monitoring efforts have not improved agency compliance rates for the two monitored behaviors—deleting inactive user accounts and instituting additional verification when prompted,” GAO said, noting, “For example, [it] found only 4 of 40 agencies monitored from Fiscal Years 2013 through 2015 had improved their compliance with requirements to complete additional verification when prompted. Further M&C does not have a documented, risk-based strategy for monitoring. Without such a strategy, USCIS is not well-positioned to target its monitoring efforts on the agencies most in need of compliance assistance or ensure the most effective use of its limited resources.”
GAO made nine recommendations to USCIS, including that USCIS improve guidance and ensure training on verification requirements; develop and implement a more effective method for record correction; and develop a documented, risk-based strategy for monitoring and compliance.
DHS concurred with GAO’s recommendations.