An Untold Number Of Immigration Applications Never Received Background Checks

Kathryn Watson | Reporter

Federal immigration officials are halting all scheduled naturalization ceremonies because their digital information system failed to run background checks on an untold number of applicants, according to an email obtained by House Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte.

The scope of the problem — including how many naturalization applications in the Electronic Immigration System (ELIS) that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officials already approved without proper background checks — is unclear.

“Effective immediately, offices are instructed not to approve or oath any naturalization cases in ELIS (Electronic Immigration System),” a Nov. 29 email marked “urgent” from USCIS Associate Director for Field Operations Directorate Daniel Renaud to USCIS staff members said.

“We have identified an issue with FBI Name Checks initiated through ELIS. At this point we are not confident that proper FBI Name Checks have been run on certain ELIS cases. At this point we are uncertain of the scope of the problem, but it is being worked,” Renaud said.

Virginia Republican Goodlatte — who only learned of the problem because a confidential source told him about it — sent a letter Friday to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson, urging a swift investigation into the problem.

“As you know, the FBI Name Check process is an integral and absolutely necessary part of the immigration benefits adjudication process,” Goodlatte wrote. “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.”

Goodlatte gave Johnson until Dec. 9 to tell him: How many times the system failed to run proper background checks, how many applications this affected, when USCIS first learned of ELIS’s failure to run FBI name checks on all cases, and what USCIS will do to make sure people who were already naturalized had the proper background checks, among other information. (RELATED: Immigration Court Backlog Reaches Record High)

Goodlatte expressed concern that no officials told him about the failure.

“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,” he wrote. “Your agency made no effort to notify me of this problem.”

DHS’ Office of Inspector General has noted multiple problems with ELIS. USCIS may have sent thousands of green cards to the wrong addresses because of problems with the system, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported.

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