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IG: USCIS Needs to Halt ELIS for Naturalization Application Processing

In a rare action, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (IG) recommended US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) “stop plans to reinstate use of the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) to process naturalization benefits for immigrants.”

The IG stated, “The urgent recommendation stems from an ongoing review which discovered alarming security concerns regarding inadequate background checks and other functionality problems with ELIS. Rather than waiting several months to issue a report when the ongoing audit is completed, the IG is taking the extraordinary step of elevating this urgent issue to USCIS leadership early so that immediate corrective action can be taken.”

In August 2016, the IG explained, “USCIS decided to discontinue the use of ELIS to process naturalization applications due to these problems. However, during its current review, the IG learned of an impending decision by USCIS to return to ELIS processing in late January 2017.”

In the IG’s January 19 Management Alert, it strongly recommended “USCIS not reinstate the use of ELIS to process N-400 naturalization applications until minimal technical and functional requirements are met and a risk-based analysis is conducted.”

The IG’s “current ELIS review began in December 2016 as a result of USCIS’ slow progress to address ELIS’ functional and technical issues identified in previous IG audits issued in March and November 2016,” the IG stated. “The March 2016 audit, USCIS Automation of Immigration Benefits Processing Remains Ineffective, identified numerous deficiencies in system capabilities and problems with interfaces that negatively affected productivity. The November 2016 audit, Better Safeguards Are Needed in USCIS Green Card Issuance, indicated that nearly 20,000 Green Cards had been issued in error, primarily due to ELIS technical and functional deficiencies.”

Consequently, Inspector General John Roth stated, “Due to the significant unresolved functional and technical issues surrounding ELIS—issues my office has reported on in numerous reports in the past—we strongly advise USCIS leadership against the premature return to electronic processing of naturalization applications until corrective actions are taken and these persistent issues are resolved.”

The IG’s January 19 Management Alert stated, “Given USCIS’ slow progress in taking corrective actions to address system deficiencies, in December 2016 we began an assessment of USCIS’ current efforts to automate processing of the N-400 Application for Naturalization in ELIS. To date, we have reviewed voluminous ELIS documentation and conducted approximately two dozen interviews with USCIS headquarters and field operations personnel. We also visited USCIS’ National Benefits Center in Kansas City, Missouri, where we observed ELIS demonstrations and met with system users. Although we are only in the beginning phases of our review, we have already identified significant operational and security issues that pose grave concern and merit[s]” the attention of USCIS Director Leon Rodriquez to take corrective action.

The IG further pointed out that, “Since its deployment on April 13, 2016, ELIS has impaired the ability of USCIS Immigration Services Officers and field personnel to conduct naturalization processing. Through our preliminary work, we have identified a range of ELIS technical and functional issues that have slowed processing and productivity,” which includes the following:

  • Missing core ELIS functionality;
  • Naturalization cases stuck in ELIS workflows, requiring manual intervention for case progression;
  • Frequent ELIS and network outages;
  • ELIS failure to connect with supporting systems; and
  • Multiple or erroneous cancellation of applicant interviews

However, the IG noted, “Ongoing USCIS efforts to correct technical deficiencies while concurrently continuing to develop system functionality have resulted in ELIS down time, instability and repeated changes that interrupt processing and confuse system users. Moreover, the USCIS Field Operations Directorate identified the following four top challenges in working in ELIS that field users believe must be addressed to ensure effective naturalization processing.”

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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