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Crime, Corruption and Incompetence at the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Part II

18 March 2009 2 Comments

Since the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Deputy Director Michael Aytes attacked my credibility and my article, Crime and Corruption at the USCIS, last January, he has not responded to my request for an interview. Story here.

Meanwhile, crime and corruption is still, as it has been for years, a dangerous reality at the USCIS and a risk to national security. The USCIS, “as the “gatekeepers of the United States immigration system…serves on the front lines of [America’s] homeland defense,” wrote the agency’s top ranking official, Michael Aytes, in his letter here.

March 7 provides yet another example of crime at this agency, this time illustrated by one Roy Bailey, “a former top immigration official in Detroit whose “outrageous conduct” involved taking free meals, landscaping services and casino chips in return for official favors.” Bailey… pled guilty “to defrauding the federal government, conspiracy to commit bribery, and failing to report a felony….” “Under Roy Bailey’s control, the immigration system… was starkly divided between those he favored and those he did not…” Court documents.

Although polls indicate that majority of Americans are in favor of legal immigration what they do not know and what some politicians and bureaucrats apparently do not want the public to know is following America’s immigration laws can be an exercise in futility.

As Senator John McCain acknowledged during his failed Presidential bid, this agency amassed a “20-year backlog” of applications.

This fact arguably contributes to an environment ripe for corruption.

It also means that legal immigration is a nifty sound bite but is easier said than done.

To begin to understand why crime and corruption is such a problem at the USCIS, take a look at how the agency conducts its operations and at what legal immigration looks like.

Let’s start at the beginning where lawful immigrants typically first encounter the USCIS by mailing in their application with the expectation that it will be processed only to discover mailing it in does not mean it will be processed.

Why not? Because at the USCIS, the basic task of counting, opening and processing the mail is unpredictable.

According to a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), January 2009, report entitled Federal User Fees: Additional Analysis and Timely Reviews Could Improve Immigration and Naturalization User Fee Design and USCIS Operations:

Contractors perform all operations for incoming and outgoing mail at the [USCIS] service centers, and they are paid according to a fixed unit price for each piece of mail processed… and the USCIS has not developed an agency wide standard operating procedure for validating the contractors’ count. As a result, three of four service centers do not validate contractor mail count at all… In most cases, however, USCIS cannot verify that it is receiving the services that it is paying for…

Why isn’t there a structure in place to ensure that all applications are counted and properly processed?

The GAO report explains why.

According to USCIS Service Center Operations officials at headquarters, service centers are responsible for developing methods to validate contractor mail counts. The Vermont Service Center’s “Incoming Mail Count Instruction” document and the Nebraska Service Center’s standard operating procedure for incoming mail do not require USCIS employees to validate the contractors’ incoming mail counts. California Service Center employees told us that they do not validate 100 percent of the incoming mail counts because a manual counting process would be inefficient and disruptive. They also said that certain types of electronic count verification such as counting the number of forms that are data entered into USCIS’ data systems would be unreliable because a single piece of mail may include multiple forms. Also, mail that does not include forms would not be data entered and therefore not captured by this type of verification.

The GAO report continues:

The Texas Service Center is the exception, having developed a method for validating the contractor’s mail count. USCIS employees randomly select samples of “tubs” of incoming mail multiple times each week, count the pieces of mail contained in the tubs and compare their counts to the contractor’s counts for these tubs. Texas Service Center officials told us that over the course of the month, service center employees ensure that they review an adequate sample size, aggregate the difference between their sample counts and the contractor’s sample counts, multiply this difference by a factor that accounts for the ratio between the sample size and the total amount of incoming mail, and apply the result to adjust the contractor’s monthly total count for all incoming mail. GAO has previously reported that a basic tenet of government procurement is that before payment is made, the purchasing agency must verify that the services have been received in accordance with contractual requirements, and the price charged is proper and correct. Without doing so, USCIS may be paying its contractors for services that it has not received.

Welcome to step one of legal immigration in action.

What happens to these applications piled up in “tubs,” that may or may not be counted, opened or processed assuming they are not lost? Applications sit in storage bins collecting dust. Read about lost files here.

As evidenced in 2007, for instance, when the USCIS’ backlog ballooned after fees were increased “an average of 86 percent” and there was a “surge in application volume as applicants attempted to submit…before the fee increase took effect…” The unprocessed applications” according to the GAO report, “At the Texas Service Center… were stored outside in six rented 10-by-40-foot containers, double-locked, and monitored by a full-time security guard.” Read full report here.

Ironically it is the filing fees immigrants pay that fund the bulk of the USCIS’ $2.6 billion budget (along with taxpayer money). That fact might explain why the agency does not decline applications although they can’t process them for years—if ever.

Ostensibly, an efficient agency might be less susceptible to crime and corruption but instead the USCIS’ coffers are replenished annually at an agency that has become anti-legal immigration at a risk to America’s national security.

Is it any real surprise that crime and corruption is a problem?

The only mystery is why this security risk that has ruined countless lives is allowed to exist as it has for two decades.