House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., today exposed that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) bureau halted naturalization ceremonies and stopped accepting new citizenship applications after it learned that its computerized case management system had not run FBI background checks on certain citizenship applicants. Earlier this year the DHS Inspector General revealed that the system -- Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) -- had issued hundreds of green cards to incorrect names and addresses, sparking national security fears. 

Chairman Goodlatte obtained an internal USCIS email that said “At this point we are not confident that proper FBI Name Checks have been run on certain ELIS [citizenship] cases…[W]e are uncertain of the scope of the problem.” The email ordered staff “not to approve or oath any naturalization cases in ELIS.”

In a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, Chairman Goodlatte criticized the vetting failure, saying, “(T)he FBI Name Check process is an integral and absolutely necessary part of the immigration benefits adjudication process. No applicant should be approved prior to such a check being completed in and with a result showing no concerns. And no immigration benefit application should be approved without ensuring that the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) is working properly. I am troubled by the fact that as the Chairman of the Committee of jurisdiction over USCIS, I was not informed about this epic USCIS failure to ensure that immigration benefits applicants were properly vetted as required by law.”

DHS is still working to transition the processing of immigration benefits from a paper-based system to ELIS, an electronic system. ELIS was initially estimated to cost $536 million, but may now exceed $3 billion. It has been plagued with problems and is currently processing only a few of the 90 immigration benefits USCIS offers. One is a green card, which makes an alien a Legal Permanent Resident and places him/her on the citizenship path.

In March 2016 the DHS Inspector General issued a scathing report saying that ELIS had increased green card errors instead of reducing them. And the IG said ELIS had issued hundreds of green to incorrect names and which could have 'fallen into the wrong hands.' 

The report quoted the FBI terrorist screening center as warning that 'there's no accurate means of identifying the exact number of US green cards that have been issued to the wrong address.' The report also said:

"USCIS recognized the potential national security vulnerability of sending USCIS documents to unauthorized individuals who might sell or use them fraudulently for profit. The Associate Director of Field Operations acknowledged that USCIS products should go out accurately 100 percent of the time, stating that it was damaging to the public's perception of the agency when it made this kind of mistake. This issue was especially critical because of the large volume of Immigrant Visas processed — typically approximately 500,000 each year."

On a daily basis USCIS issues 6,500 green cards, adjudicates close to 200 refugee applications, and naturalizes over 3,200 new citizens. The citizenship background check failure Chairman Goodlatte exposed raises questions as to whether ELIS is failing to run FBI Name Checks on green card applicants as well.

Read Chairman Goodlatte's press release.

Legal Immigration
National Security

Updated: Fri, Dec 16th 2016 @ 5:20pm EST