The principal goal for many illegal aliens is to get "documented" so that they may continue to reside or work in the United States. This goal has generated a form of corruption in which INS employees provide genuine INS documents or benefits in return for bribes or favors. Sometimes, middlemen will find and deal with corrupt INS employees to get official INS documents and benefits. The temptations and rewards for selling these official documents are great. For example, INS officials estimate that an employment authorization card sells for about $1,500, and a Green Card (Alien Registration Receipt Card) for as much as $10,000. Thus, a corrupt INS official could reap thousands of dollars, depending on the type of document or nature of the fraud. There are many ways an alien can fraudulently obtain genuine INS documents:
In each of the aforementioned scenarios, the cases would be referred to the OIG because the OIG investigates complaints against INS employees that constitute violations of Federal laws and where there is a likelihood that the cases will be accepted for prosecution. Through investigations of INS employees, the OIG sometimes obtains biographical information on aliens who were the beneficiaries of such schemes.
The DOJ usually targets for priority criminal prosecution the vendors of the documents, the middlemen who paid bribes, and the corrupt INS employees who accepted bribes. In contrast, aliens who are the beneficiaries of the illicit benefits usually are not prosecuted and often retain the benefits that were fraudulently obtained. 4 As a result, these aliens could later come into contact with INS officers in the adjudication or inspection process without the officers being aware of the aliens' complicity in the prior fraud schemes. Our inspection report on INS document fraud records corrections concluded, "INS [did] not act against aliens who pay bribes or purchase fraudulent documents." We recommended that INS " . . . develop a flagging system that will alert INS personnel to alien participation in fraud schemes."
In response to our recommendation, INS developed policy changes, technological modifications, and corrective actions necessary to implement flagging procedures. INS developed a manual entitled, "Flagging of Fraudulent Records in INS Automated Systems," dated August 5, 1997. This manual includes procedures for flagging records and actions that should be taken when a National Automated Immigrant Lookout System (NAILS) flag is encountered. The procedures require INS officials to enter pertinent data into NAILS regarding aliens suspected of obtaining immigration documents and benefits fraudulently.
NAILS is an INS lookout system that contains information on persons of interest to INS and other Federal agencies for law enforcement purposes. NAILS facilitates the inspection, adjudication, and investigation processes by providing quick and easy retrieval of information. In addition to providing biographical and case data, this lookout system provides the capability for temporary and local lookouts and helps to streamline the inspection process by simplifying data entry, search, and retrieval procedures. NAILS records are transferred electronically to the Interagency Border Inspection System/Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS), which is run by the United States Customs Service. TECS terminals are located at ports of entry and are typically used by INS inspectors to check incoming travelers to determine whether law enforcement agencies have an interest in them.
The Central Index System (CIS) is the INS's primary electronic database that contains data on all aliens who have been assigned Alien-numbers (A-numbers) since 1960. When a record is created in NAILS the corresponding CIS record is automatically updated with a flag indicating the need for the system user (e.g., adjudicators making decisions on requests for benefits or inspectors at ports of entry), to look in NAILS for additional information on the alien. Once in NAILS, the system user is presented with instructions on how to proceed with the alien (e.g., who to contact and what information is needed of the alien).
As part of the flagging procedures, INS's Alien Status Verification Index (ASVI) System was enhanced to capture a NAILS flag passed from CIS. ASVI is used by government agencies to check aliens' status in order to determine their eligibility to receive payments from many benefit programs. However, the NAILS flag is invisible to these benefit-granting agencies because of legal limitations placed on the use of NAILS information. Rather, the invisible flag is used to alert INS that an agency has had contact with an alien whose record is flagged. 5
Scope and Methodology
To assess INS's actions in regard to our 1996 recommendation, we interviewed officials from INS Headquarters offices of Records, Field Operations, Internal Audit, General Counsel, and Immigration Services Division.
We obtained a list of 4,585 aliens whose records should have been flagged by INS as being associated with schemes where aliens obtained genuine immigration documents fraudulently. These records were given to the INS as a result of our 1996 inspection. The records belonged to aliens who were associated with nine OIG criminal investigations involving fraudulently obtained genuine immigration documents and benefits.6 From this universe, we drew a statistically-valid random sample of 355 alien records, which allowed us to project our findings to the entire universe of records.
We searched CIS for each of the 355 A-numbers in our sample to determine whether the alien's record contained a NAILS flag. A NAILS flag in CIS is an indicator that directs the system user to look in NAILS for additional information. If present, the flag appears as "NAILS-X" on the alien's principal CIS screen. If the flag was present, we examined the NAILS record to determine whether there was any information to guide the system user and, if so, when that information was entered. We also reviewed CIS to determine if the alien had received any additional INS benefits after the record was flagged.
If the CIS record did not contain a "NAILS-X" flag, we sought to determine whether the flag had ever been entered and if so, did INS follow procedures in removing the flag. For those records from which the flag had been removed, we determined when the flag was removed.