On March 15, John Roth, the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs regarding the security of U.S. visa programs. The OIG report Roth submitted as his written testimony dealt with the efforts of DHS to update their paper-based processing system to an integrated automated process, and to share data among agencies. This process began in 2005, yet, according to Roth, “little progress” has been made, resulting in ongoing fraud and security risks.
Here is what OIG investigators found:
“Work and fiancé visas were the predominant means that human traffickers used to bring victims into the United States legally."
• 53% of the trafficking cases identified by OIG involved the use of non-immigrant work visas or fiancée visas to traffic victims. The other 47% of cases involved those who entered the U.S. illegally or overstayed visitor visas.
“ICE did not have sufficient data to determine the effectiveness of its Visa Security Program, which requires the screening and vetting of overseas visa applicants.”
• OIG could not report just how poorly the Visa Security Program was performing because senior ICE officials expressed such “a lack of confidence in the value of the current performance measures.” In other words, ICE could not describe just how inadequate was the program designed to protect Americans from foreigners who are potential threats.
“USCIS is unable to demonstrate the benefits of foreign investment into the U.S. economy [and] does not have a reliable basis to determine whether the money is from an improper source…..The laws and regulations governing the EB-5 immigrant investor program do not give USCIS the authority to deny or terminate a regional center’s participation in the program due to fraud or national security concerns."
• The EB-5 program is widely recognized as being rife with fraud, in large part because USCIS has established no way of identifying proper use of the program. The regional centers, many of which it is not an exaggeration to refer to as money laundering operations, are allowed to verify by “self-certification” that they are following EB-5 guidelines.
“We found that ICE and USCIS cooperated on a limited basis to exchange human trafficking data…”
• It is bad enough when different agencies within the federal government refuse to cooperate due to turf battles, but ICE and USCIS are both agencies within DHS, under the management of Secretary Jeh Johnson. Johnson could easily coordinate the sharing of data in order to prevent trafficking and to improve security. He has not shown a willingness to do so because he refuses to acknowledge the depth of the problem.
• In the same Senate hearing in which Roth testified, Sarah Saldana, Director of ICE, acknowledged that USCIS officers refused to grant DHS investigators access to a suspect in order to arrest him for providing weapons to the San Bernardino terrorists.
OIG also found that the L-1 guest worker visa has a provision that is “inherently susceptible to abuse,” and that even if a visa petition is denied or revoked because of fraud, there were many instances when USCIS personnel did not record this in agency databases, meaning individuals who committed fraud could later apply without any flags on their records.
This OIG report highlights just how susceptible our legal immigration system is to fraud and abuse, and the profound danger to our national security due to the incompetent management of government agencies. Competent management of our immigration system is the responsibility of the executive branch, and, while President Obama has failed in this capacity, that failure extends beyond the current administration. Members of Congress must do more than just hold hearings and then send out congratulatory press releases in an attempt score political points. Congress must act to bring accountability back to the immigration system.
Here is the conclusion of Mr. Roth’s written testimony (emphasis added.) There is nothing ambiguous about his warnings.
…the present system presents risks to our national security – in that we may be admitting individuals who wish to do us harm, or who do not meet the requirements for a visa. Basic information on visa applicants was not captured in electronic format and thus cannot be used to perform basic investigative steps. Also, because of the poor quality of the electronic data kept by both USCIS and ICE, it was difficult to engage in data matching, which we believe is an effective tool in rooting out fraud and national security risks.
Updated: Thu, Mar 31st 2016 @ 5:55pm EDT