EXCLUSIVE: New USCIS Office Investigating Thousands Who Got US Citizenship Through Identity Fraud

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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A new government office created to investigate bogus naturalization applications estimates there are at least 3,000 cases of aliens who used false identities to obtain U.S. citizenship, federal officials told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

The office, housed inside U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has identified the potential fraud cases as a part of its ongoing review of more than 300,000 fingerprint records uploaded to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) database beginning in 2014.

Based on the review to date, officials could uncover more than 3,000 instances where an ineligible alien assumed another identity and used it to become a U.S. citizen, USCIS associate director for field operations Daniel Renaud told TheDCNF Tuesday in an interview.

The targeted review stems from a 2016 DHS inspector general report that found roughly 315,000 old fingerprint records for people who had been deported or had criminal convictions had not been uploaded to a DHS database of immigrants’ identities. As immigration authorities enrolled the paper records into the DHS system, they discovered hundreds of cases where an alien with an order of removal under one name had been naturalized under another identity.

The records in question were taken by the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service in the 1990s and early 200os, before DHS’s biometric database — IDENT — was created. Because the fingerprints were not subsequently added to IDENT, it would have been much easier for a previously deported or otherwise ineligible alien to successfully obtain immigration benefits with a fake identity, Renaud explained.

Immigration authorities have reviewed 167,000 of the formerly missing records to date, and about 2,000 of them matched names of people who have naturalized, according to USCIS officials. Of that number, an estimated 1,600 — or 80 percent — of the naturalizations appear to be fraudulent. If that rate holds, USCIS estimates there will be another 1,400 to 1,600 naturalization fraud cases within the second batch of 148,000 fingerprint records, Renaud said.

USCIS Director Francis Cissna revealed the creation of a special office to deal with the potential crush of cases in an interview with the Associated Press published on Monday. The office will fall under the agency’s Los Angeles district and is expected to comprise dozens of attorneys and immigration officers with years of experience handling naturalization cases. (RELATED: Immigration Agency Forms Group To Track Down People Who Cheated To Get US Citizenship)

“The new USCIS office in southern California will serve as a centralized location to review and initiate the civil denaturalization process against individuals who had been ordered removed and intentionally used multiple identities in order to defraud the government and the American people to obtain citizenship,” USCIS spokesman Michael Bars said in a statement.

The new office builds on the work of a similar unit that USCIS set up in its Los Angeles field office in January 2017. Although that team of about a dozen officials is much smaller than the new office is expected to be, it has managed to refer 95 cases to the Department of Justice for civil denaturalization, according to USCIS figures provided to TheDCNF.

That number is expected to rise as the agency begins “moving forward in a much larger way” on denaturalization cases, Renaud said.

The creation of an office to investigate potential naturalization fraud does not change how cases are ultimately resolved. Current law requires a USCIS official to prepare an affidavit of good cause, which the Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation uses to file a civil lawsuit against a person who is alleged to have fraudulently obtained citizenship. Denaturalization cases are heard in federal court and only a judge has the authority to strip someone of U.S. citizenship.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has pursued a series of high-profile denaturalization cases against people who lied to immigration officials while applying for citizenship.

Prosecutors in February filed a civil complaint to strip U.S. citizenship from a diversity visa-lottery winner who lied about illegally funneling cash to a subject of U.S. sanctions during his naturalization interviews. Later that month, federal attorneys filed similar actions against five convicted child molesters who lied about their criminal histories during the naturalization process.

More recently, federal judges in April revoked the citizenship of a Somali immigrant who obtained green cards for herself and fake family members, as well as an Egyptian-born man who provided logistical support and recruited for al-Qaida.

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