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Crime and Corruption at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services

21 January 2009 3 Comments

As immigrant rights activists demand immigration reform from the Obama administration, it is critical to acknowledge that concrete reform cannot be achieved as long as the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) is riddled with corruption and criminal abuse.

Crime and corruption at the USCIS formerly the Immigration and Nationalization Services, (INS) is the dirty secret few politicians dare mention within their vaulted rhetoric calling for urgent immigration reform that never materializes. Thus far, their hollow words and legislative tinkering over the last 20 years produced few results except costing taxpayers a fortune and ruining countless legal immigrants lives.
Worse, this U.S. $2.6 billion agency, under the Clinton and Bush administrations, grew into a dysfunctional anti-lawful immigrant bureaucracy that invites corruption. The USCIS, often the antithesis of law and order, is a ticking bomb with potential to cause severe damage to America.

Tasked to protect national security by keeping terrorists out, the USCIS’s responsibilities include granting visas, residency, and citizenship to law abiding foreign-born workers while balancing economic needs, and honouring America’s tradition as a nation of immigrants. But the USCIS’s checkered history is stained with bribery indictments.

For years federal employees have been caught taking bribes or demanding sexual favors from foreign nationals in exchange for processing their applications to live in America. And for every corrupt official arrested, how many stop taking bribes—temporarily? How many dubious foreign nationals already bribed their way in? There is no real way to measure and exploited foreigners are reluctant to report these crimes for fear of jeopardizing their American dream. All this flagrant corruption occurs in large part because the USCIS is overwhelmed by backlogs from immigrants following America’s laws stuck in the nonsensical and degrading bureaucracy. This is the madness called the USCIS. This is America’s immigration agency.

Take a look:

• In Immigration Labyrinth, Corruption Comes easily—headline, New York Times, September 12, 1994. “…the word quickly spread through immigrant communities. Come to the… offices of the INS (now USCIS). Bring cash. Buy the right to live or work in the U.S.… Smooth-talking middlemen took care of the details, bribing immigration service employees… Every year dozens of INS employees are arrested… an investigation… during the past decade… found that the agency has repeatedly failed to shore up security weaknesses, even when corruption arrests have exposed them over and over again.”
7 I.N.S. Employees and 26 Others Are Charged With Selling False Immigration Papers-headline, New York Times, March 13, 1998.”…seven employees of the INS and 26 others had been charged with selling fraudulent immigration papers for more than $100,000 in bribes. The case…continues to raise questions about how well the agency is addressing its vulnerability to corruption. The scheme grew so brazen, prosecutors said, that some cash bribes were exchanged right inside the INS offices at 26 Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan.” 

Cash, cars, jewelry: Some corruption cases involving immigration officers—headline, Associated Press, September 24, 2006. 
• Immigration Official Pleads Guilty to Falsifying Documents—headline Washington Post, December 1, 2006. “A Department of Homeland Security supervisor pleaded guilty… to pocketing more than $600,000 in bribes…”
U.S. agents accused of aiding Islamist scheme—headline, Washington Times, August 15, 2007. “A criminal investigations report says several USCIS employees are accused of aiding Islamic extremists with identification fraud and of exploiting the visa system for personal gain. The confidential 2006 USCIS report said that despite the severity of the potential security breaches, most are not investigated “due to lack of resources…” 

An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex—headline, New York Times, March 21, 2008. A USCIS adjudicator was arrested after he was caught on tape, telling a 22-year old Colombian woman, “I want sex,” he said… “.You get your green card.”
Top Homeland Security Official Accused of Hiring Illegal Immigrants to Clean Her House— headline, Associated Press, December 5, 2008. “…even warning one not to leave the country ‘cause once you leave, you will never be back.’”

For years critical warnings piled up, including when Michael J. Maxwell, former USCIS director of the office of security and investigations, in 2006, at a House subcommittee warned lawmakers that the USCIS is a “dysfunctional agency crippled by corruption both inside and outside that’s trying to handle too many cases with too few employees.

“… the system is incapable of ensuring the security of our homeland,” Maxwell testified. But crime lives on at the USCIS.

Last December, former President Bush “expressed regrets about not achieving an overhaul of immigration laws,” but truth be told it is a tragedy that neither the Clinton or Bush Administrations and Congress did not accomplish concrete reform. Instead the USCIS perversely created a pathway to crime, in an agency partially funded by taxpayers that benefits criminals. As is, the USCIS could not possibly safely process millions of illegal aliens should amnesty or a “pathway to citizenship” become part of the Obama administration’s reform plans.

Until this fiasco called the USCIS roots out crime and corruption and tangibly becomes a lawful and efficient agency, Americans, principled USCIS officials, and law abiding foreigners can expect reform in name only. Criminals and malevolent foreigners, however, can expect that the privilege to live in America is still for sale.

Perhaps the immigrant rights groups would better serve America’s interests by advocating on behalf of the rights of American taxpayers and lawful immigrants stuck in backlogs. As is, America’s legal immigration system is so broken and backlogged it creates illegals.