Immigration Benefit Fraud:

Focused Approach Is Needed to Address Problems

GAO-02-66: Published: Jan 31, 2002. Publicly Released: Feb 15, 2002.

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Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials believe that some aliens are using the benefit application process to carry out illegal activities, such as crimes of violence, narcotics trafficking, and terrorism. The extent of immigration benefit fraud is unknown, but INS officials and others believe that this problem will increase as smugglers and other criminal enterprises use fraud to bring illegal aliens, including criminals, into the United States. INS investigative units in both the service centers and the district offices investigate possible benefit fraud on the basis of information they receive from staff who process benefit applications, other INS units, the public, and law enforcement agencies. Providing immigration benefits in a timely manner may conflict with the goal of preserving the integrity of the legal immigration system. Although INS recognizes the need to balance these competing goals, it has not always succeeded. INS has several performance measures in place to gauge the results of its benefit fraud enforcement activities. However, INS has not established outcome-based performance measures to assess the results of fraud activities. Additionally, INS has not established goals or measurement criteria for the service center units that are responsible for fraud investigations.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to determine the actions and related costs that would be associated with providing adjudicators access to INS databases for reviewing applications for alien benefits, and if appropriate, provide adjudicators such access. This determination should also include the actions and costs related to sharing information among the four service centers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was abolished and the adjudication of immigration benefits was transferred to the newly created US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Since our January 2002 report, DHS has taken a number of actions to provide USCIS adjudicators with access to information to assist them in adjudicating applications for immigration benefits. For example, all applicants are checked against the Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) to identify any potential derogatory information. USCIS created the Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS) unit to focus on deterring and detecting fraudulent applications. FDNS officers have access to a wide variety of law enforcement databases including the National Crime Information Center to assist adjudicators in obtaining applicant related information. USCIS adjudicators also have access to the State Department's Consular Consolidated Database on visa applicants as well as State's Passport database. FDNS has created an internal web site available to adjudicators that has, for example, information on fraud trends, the results of FDNS' Benefit Fraud and Compliance Assessments, and lists of approved attorneys and representatives allowed to submit immigration benefit applications on behalf of their clients.

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to use the Criminal Investigative Reporting System, or develop another method, to track and manage benefit fraud investigations, so that INS can maintain data on individuals and organizations that are or have been the target of investigations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Effective October 10, 2002, the use of CIRS was mandated by the Executive Associate Commissioner to record, track, and manage investigative leads, casework, and reports of investigation completed at all field offices.

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to develop guidance for INS's investigative units at the district office and service centers to use in deciding which benefit application fraud cases to pursue.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency issued field guidance to district offices and service centers for implementing effective fraud prevention on September 30, 2002. The Anti-fraud Strategic Plan was effective October 1, 2002.

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to revise INS's strategy to also determine how INS should balance its dual responsibilities of processing applications in a timely manner and detecting fraudulent applications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, INS was abolished and its immigration benefit function was transferred to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In May 2004, in response to our recommendation, USCIS created the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security (FDNS), whose primary responsibility is detecting, pursuing, and deterring immigration benefit fraud. If a USCIS adjudicator suspects an application is fraudulent, rather than spend additional time pursing the fraud, the adjudicator is to refer the application to FDNS, which is then to conduct additional database checks and analysis in order to confirm fraud. The ability of adjudicators to refer suspected fraud to FDNS should enable them to spend more time adjudicating applications, thus focus more on meeting production goals and ensuring quality. Also, FDNS is separate from the USCIS program that adjudicates immigration benefit applications and reports directly to the Deputy Director of USCIS. The referral process and FDNS's direct reporting to the Deputy Director should better ensure that USCIS's dual responsibilities of processing applications in a timely manner and detecting fraudulent applications is balanced.

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to revise the INS's interior enforcement strategy to better integrate its many units, including the service centers' operations units involved in benefit fraud enforcement, to effectively coordinate limited resources and to address crosscutting policy and procedural or logistical problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Agency has developed a strategic plan to enhance the interior enforcement strategy to ensure greater coordination and integration of the various units and increase its ability to combat immigration fraud. According to the agency, implementation will enhance the overall integrity of its benefits program, while at the same time allow for coordinated anti-fraud measures between service centers operations units and investigative branches.

    Recommendation: The attorney general should direct the INS Commissioner to establish outcome-based performance measures for benefit fraud investigations against which to gauge the success of these efforts, building on the results of the H-1B study to the extent practicable.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Management

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In March 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)was abolished and Congress created the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS' Office of Investigations, within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is now responsible for investigating all immigration and customs related violations. Prior to the merger, the Attorney General did not direct the INS Commissioner to establish outcome based performance measures for benefit fraud investigations and, as of January 2010, DHS has not done so.

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