DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL

INSPECTIONS DIVISION

 

IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICE

DOCUMENT FRAUD RECORDS CORRECTIONS

 

September 1996

Report Number I-96-09

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Introduction

Results of the Inspection

INS Does Not Act Against Aliens Who Pay Bribes or Purchase Fraudulent Documents

INS Priorities

INS Resources

INS Does Not Prevent Receipt of Benefits

Benefits

Records of Corrections

INS Needs to Take Action

Recommendation

APPENDIX I - Management's Response to Draft Report - NOT INCLUDED IN THIS HYPERTEXT VERSION.

APPENDIX II - Office of the Inspector General's Analysis of Management's Response - NOT INCLUDED IN THIS HYPERTEXT VERSION.

 

 

INTRODUCTION

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) estimates that approximately 4 million illegal aliens reside in the United States. For many illegal, undocumented aliens, their principal goal for continuing residence in the United States is to get "documented." This imperative has generated two kinds of document fraud: one is an active, often very open market in counterfeit, altered, and stolen INS documents.

A small cottage industry has developed in counterfeiting and selling fake INS documentation. INS has recognized the prolific trade in fake documentation and has embarked on an ambitious project to produce a new generation of highly counterfeit-resistant permanent resident cards, employment authorization cards, and border crossing cards. The security features planned for these new cards include microline printing, holograms, and ultraviolet ink.

There is a second, smaller, but more egregious form of corruption in which an INS employee is sought out to sell a legitimate INS document or benefit in return for a bribe or favor. Often, middlemen will find and deal with corrupt INS employees to get official INS benefits and documents. The temptations and rewards for selling these official documents are great. For example, while it has been estimated that an employment authorization card may sell for as little as $50, a border crossing card might sell for as much as $325, a temporary resident permit for $2,300, and a Green Card for roughly $5,500. Thus, a corrupt official could gain hundreds or thousands of dollars per transaction depending on the type of document or nature of the fraud. There is a host of ways in which an alien can fraudulently obtain genuine INS documents:

Pay an INS employee to act favorably on an application submitted to obtain an INS benefit, document, adjudication or examination. The resulting document will be genuine, not counterfeit or altered, and it will, thereafter, be corroborated in INS' official records.

Pay an INS employee to steal blank INS documents, official stamps and ink pads, in order to create INS documents that, in all respects, will appear to be genuine. In this regard, INS has often been found to poorly control these valuable materials. For example, a 1995 OIG inspection noted inadequate inventory records and security for controlled documents and for equipment. Thousands of controlled employment authorization documents were unaccounted for and equipment was missing. A 1991 OIG inspection found that lost or stolen stamps were not immediately reported and controlled documents lacked adequate safeguards. Also, a 1990 OIG audit disclosed thousands of unaccounted for certificates of naturalization. [/ DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-91-13, Security of Controlled Documents and Stamps in the INS , July 1991; DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-94-07, INS Employment Authorization Document Program , March 1995; and DOJ OIG Audit Report 90-5, Controls Over Certificates of Naturalization and Citizenship in the INS , February 1990 .]

Pay an INS employee to enter INS' electronic record systems and make an entry or deletion in one or more of the alien's records that will reflect an eligible or valid immigration status if the record system is later queried. In this regard also, INS' security with respect to safeguarding against unauthorized access to these systems has been found to be lax in the past. One 1994 and two 1995 inspections of INS data bases (SAVE, EAD and NAILS) found that controls over data entry and supervisory oversight were weak. A 1993 audit report discussed a specific case of employees fraudulently creating or changing 1,700 records in INS' Central Index System (CIS). [/ DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-92-20, Systematic Alien Verification For Entitlements Program in the INS , June 1995; DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-94-07, Employment Authorization Document Program , March 1995; DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-93-08, INS National Automated Immigration Lookout System II , March 1994; DOJ OIG Audit Report 93-11, Data Base Access Controls at the INS , March 1993; and DOJ OIG Audit Report 93-17, Computer Risk Analyses and Contingency Planning at the INS , September 1993 .]

The Department of Justice investigates and prosecutes persons engaged in document fraud. In 1994, for example, a Deputy Assistant District Director for Examinations in INS pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery for accepting up to $70,000 from a middleman in exchange for providing legitimate INS Green Cards and for making false entries in INS' CIS regarding the aliens' entitlement to remain in the United States. About 50 aliens benefited from the scheme. In 1994, an INS supervisory mail clerk was charged with conspiracy, bribery, and visa fraud. The clerk accepted thousands of dollars in return for entering fraudulent biographical data on over 300 aliens into CIS. The clerk signed a plea agreement admitting guilt to one count of bribery. In 1991, four INS employees and several document brokers were convicted of operating a multi-million dollar bribery scheme that supplied various INS documents to illegal aliens. More than 400 aliens were identified as participants.

When such investigations are successful, the government usually targets for priority prosecution the vendors of the documents, the middlemen who paid bribes, and the corrupt INS employees who accepted bribes. If the vendors and middlemen are illegal aliens, deportation proceedings are usually initiated against them. But what about the other aliens who profited from the crime, who provided the bribe money, and who have received as a result of the crime INS benefits or documents? The purpose of this inspection was to determine what actions INS takes against these aliens who have obtained immigration documents by fraudulent means.

The report that follows is the product of our discussions and inquiries at INS headquarters with officials from the Investigations, Intelligence, and Detention and Deportation Divisions of the Office of Enforcement; the Adjudications and Nationality, Inspections, Service Center Operations, and Records Divisions of the Office of Examinations; the Enforcement Branch of the Office of Field Operations; the Data Systems Division of the Office of Information Resource Management; the Office of Internal Audit; and the Office of General Counsel. To extend our review to include field activities, we visited the INS New York District Office where we interviewed investigations and examinations personnel. We also interviewed OIG investigators who investigate corrupt INS employees.

To assess INS' actions on aliens identified as customers in document fraud schemes, we chose to study only a portion of all possible fraudulent activities. We looked at document fraud cases involving schemes that depended for their success upon the corruption of INS employees. Thus, the focus of this review is on frauds involving the purchase of genuine INS documents from INS employees, and those involving the payment of a bribe (either directly or through a middleman) to an INS employee in return for favorable action. Our work was selective, and limited in this way for two reasons. First, this approach enabled us to take advantage of already existing data that could be tracked to a useful conclusion. Second, while the purchase of stolen and counterfeit documents may be serious, far more serious are efforts to corrupt INS employees and compromise INS' official records with false information. The greater enforcement effort is appropriately directed toward the more serious offense.

As a general rule, most document fraud is uncovered, investigated and combatted by INS, without much help from other law enforcement agencies. Most document fraud cases will not involve a corrupt INS employee. Cases that do involve INS employee corruption are the primary responsibility of the OIG, although either INS or the Federal Bureau of Investigation may also participate in such investigations.

When the OIG Investigations Division conducts an employee corruption investigation that identifies aliens who have participated and benefited from a document fraud scheme, the Division forwards any information that it has developed on the aliens to INS for action. The OIG field office investigating the case also usually shares such information with the appropriate INS field office during the investigation.

 

RESULTS OF THE INSPECTION

 

INS DOES NOT ACT AGAINST ALIENS WHO PAY BRIBES OR PURCHASE FRAUDULENT DOCUMENTS

INS made little effort to locate or deport aliens who were the customers and beneficiaries of document fraud schemes. INS did not take action to preclude such aliens from receiving benefits for which their fraud had made them eligible; did not act to delete, correct, or flag fraudulent entries in its automated data bases and information systems; and had no provision for placing any code, flag, or alert in INS records to warn INS officers should they encounter these same aliens in the future.

In our discussions with INS officials and employees in headquarters and in the field, we learned that INS investigators usually do not attempt to locate aliens identified as participants in fraud schemes, and neither INS investigators nor other INS officers initiate deportation proceedings against these aliens. INS officers cited a number of reasons for not pursuing these aliens, including INS investigative priorities, a shortage of detention space, and an overloaded and under-funded deportation system. INS employees expressed frustration about the deportation process and doubted that these aliens would actually be deported.

Based on OIG case tracking records and our examination of individual investigative files, we were able to establish that, in fiscal year 1994, the OIG completed 330 cases involving INS. The Investigations Division's data base and case tracking system did not include a specific "document fraud case" identifier. Consequently, we searched the data base for all listings involving the statutory offenses usually charged in document fraud cases. With these descriptions as a guide, we identified 411 cases closed between January 1991 and June 1995 that might involve document fraud and fraudulent records entries. [/ In the three fiscal years, 1993 through 1995, INS investigators completed 17,632 fraud cases. However, INS investigative case files are maintained in each district and there is no INS-wide data base that reports how many or which of these cases involved document fraud. One reason for selecting the approach used in this study was that it enabled us to rely on an OIG case tracking system with which we were familiar as an aid to identifying document fraud cases and retrieving investigative reports and files for study. Even then, anecdotal recollections were a significant factor in our ability to find suitable illustrative cases.] From this beginning, we winnowed the sample down to 36 case files. These cases had specific identifying information on over 2,400 aliens who had benefited from document fraud schemes. Included in this group were several that had hundreds of aliens identified by name or A-number. [/ An A-number is the unique numeric identifier assigned to an alien and is used by INS to maintain its records of all information relative to that individual.] In New York, we reviewed the INS documentation for 3 of these cases, 2 of which involved almost 600 aliens who had participated as customers and beneficiaries of fraud schemes. We found no evidence that INS had attempted to pursue any of the aliens who benefited from the document fraud.

INS Priorities - INS has formal investigative priorities. It gives highest level priority to activities that affect control of legal immigration and the restriction of illegal immigration to the United States. Criminal fraud schemes are high priority cases. Vendors and middlemen involved in criminal fraud are prosecuted and, when they are illegal aliens, deportation proceedings are usually initiated against them.

The aliens who pay the bribes or knowingly purchase a false or stolen document are beneficiaries of the fraud scheme, but are not the promoters or facilitators of the scheme, and therefore, are relegated to a lower INS priority level. They are usually not prosecuted, [/ The decision whether to prosecute, it should be noted, is not INS', but is reserved to prosecutors elsewhere in the Department. On the other hand, the exercise of prosecutorial discretion could well be affected if INS made clear that prosecuting recipients of false or stolen documents was a high priority matter.] and INS spends only a minimal effort on them. INS Investigations Division managers at INS Headquarters and investigations managers at the New York District told us that pursuit of these aliens was at the bottom of their set of priorities. The New York District Director said he does not have sufficient manpower to pursue these aliens and still meet the other, higher INS national investigative priorities such as criminal aliens and employer sanctions.

Neither investigators nor other INS officers initiate deportation proceedings against these aliens. INS examinations officers also can initiate deportation proceedings against aliens. However, examinations managers in both Headquarters and the New York District Office emphasized the INS-wide pressure to process aliens' benefit applications as quickly as possible to provide good customer service. The examinations managers were reluctant to slow down the processing of benefit applications by diverting resources to initiate deportation proceedings against these aliens.

INS Resources - We recognize that resources have been a constraint. However, while continuing to focus on its priorities, INS needs to distribute its investigative resources to provide at least some coverage to aliens who benefit as customers of fraud schemes. Further, INS examinations managers should balance the need to prepare deportation documentation against the processing of benefit applications. INS is receiving substantial amounts of new resources, some of which could be devoted to pursuing and processing these fraud customers. Failure to place these aliens in deportation proceedings directly undermines the credibility of INS' commitment to enforce all immigration laws.

INS managers of both the Investigations and the Adjudications and Nationality Divisions cited a lack of clerical support to prepare the documentation necessary to initiate deportation proceedings. New York investigations and examinations managers also cited the lack of clerical support as a reason for not initiating deportation proceedings against the beneficiaries of document fraud.

Moreover, INS managers at both Headquarters and New York cited insufficient detention space to hold potential detainees. They saw no point in pursuing aliens and initiating deportation proceedings if the aliens could not be detained. The managers stated that unless the aliens were detained they would probably not be deported. Our recent inspection report on deportation supported their contention. [/ DOJ OIG Inspection Report I-96-03, Deportation of Aliens After Final Orders Have Been Issued , March 1996.] The report noted that unless aliens are detained, INS has little success in deporting them. In that inspection, we found that INS removed almost 94 percent of the detained aliens but was able to remove only about 11 percent of nondetained aliens.

INS investigations and examinations managers at Headquarters said that they saw little point in adding to the high number of aliens already in deportation proceedings -- over 464,000 at the end of fiscal year 1994.

Finally, almost all of the investigators and examiners interviewed expressed a general pessimism about the value of placing aliens in deportation proceedings. They noted that even if deportation proceedings were initiated against aliens, aliens are afforded several levels of administrative legal review. Obtaining deportation orders is far from certain. Further, even if deportation orders are obtained, they are ineffective unless the aliens have been detained. From the INS managers' perspective, given the lack of actual deportations, they find it hard to justify the effort and resources necessary to put the aliens who participated as customers into deportation proceedings.

With respect to insufficient detention space, the large number of aliens already the subject of deportation proceedings, the uncertainty of the outcome of the deportation process, and the low number of actual deportations, we can understand the pessimism of INS employees.

In our judgment, the reasons INS officers gave for not pursuing aliens may have some merit, but do not justify INS' lack of action against most aliens who pay a bribe or knowingly buy false or stolen documents. INS should utilize the identifying information developed in document fraud investigations and attempt to locate and deport these aliens.

INS Does Not Prevent Receipt of Benefits

INS does not delete or correct fraudulent entries to its electronic data bases and there are no provisions for placing codes or flags into INS data bases to alert INS officers who may come into contact with these aliens in the future. If the aliens are not removed from the United States, if fraudulent record system entries are not corrected and alerts posted to an INS data base, and if fraudulently-obtained genuine INS documents are not reclaimed, the aliens not only retain their fraudulently-obtained immigration rights, but also may be able to obtain additional benefits.

Benefits - The benefits obtained from INS could include the rights to live in the United States as a permanent resident, to leave and reenter the United States, to work, to petition to bring in relatives as lawful permanent residents, and to citizenship.

In addition to the benefits obtained from INS, there are possible financial costs to the taxpayer. Federal, state, and local agencies use an entitlement verification system, which interfaces with an INS data base to determine an alien's eligibility to receive payments from many benefit programs. Although illegal aliens are not eligible for most Federal benefit programs, an alien could receive these benefits if the alien's status has been fraudulently entered in the INS data base, as could the alien's spouse and children. Programs requiring this verification include Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), Food Stamps, unemployment compensation, public housing assistance, financial assistance for higher education, and employment training under the Job Training Partnership Act.

It is not known how many illegal aliens are receiving benefits to which they are not entitled. The following data shows the potential costs of not ensuring accurate information in INS' data bases. In 1994, the average monthly benefit amount for SSI payments was $325 for Federal payments with up to $166 in state supplements. For AFDC in fiscal year 1994, average monthly payments per family ranged from $120 to $735. In fiscal year 1994, the average monthly value of food stamps per person was about $69. In 1994, average state unemployment

insurance benefits per week ranged between $118 and $266. Thus, depending on the state of residence, an illegal alien with a wife and two children who was receiving all of the above benefits could be getting between $1,193 and $2,566 per month. [/ Annual Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin, 1995 .]

The costs to U.S. taxpayers of aliens who have obtained their status fraudulently, or of the illegal alien population as a whole, are unknown. Illegal aliens generate revenues (taxes) and these revenues offset some of the costs (benefits) that Federal, state, and local governments

incur. Estimates of the national net costs of illegal aliens vary widely. Recent estimates are between $2 billion and $19 billion per year. [/ GAO Report GAO/HEHS-95-133, Illegal Aliens; National Net Cost Estimates Vary Widely , July 1995 .]

Once the document fraud or fraudulent data entry has been committed, the alien and family members can obtain benefits for as long as they remain in the country. If the alien later petitions to bring a family member into the United States as a lawful permanent resident, the original fraud will be compounded.

Records Corrections - INS employees have noted the need to delete or correct fraudulent records, particularly in the CIS. The CIS is the INS-wide electronic data base that contains data on all aliens who have been assigned A-numbers since 1960.

New York investigators had sought permission from Headquarters to delete fraudulent entries from CIS, but this request was denied. Personnel in the Records Division, who are responsible for maintenance of the CIS, told us that they believed fraudulent entries should not be deleted because it was important to maintain a history of what had occurred. They also feared that deletion of an entire fraudulently-created record would make it easier for an unscrupulous employee to assign the same A-number to another alien without being detected.

The Records Division staff also has received requests from field officers, both investigators and examiners, to place alerts in CIS to indicate fraud. In several instances, field officers created and recorded their own entries into CIS. The entries were inappropriately placed in data fields that have specific alpha/numeric criteria and, as invalid entries, they created problems within the data base. Consequently, the records staff instructed field officers not to make these entries. To date, the records staff has been unable to offer them an alternative means of placing an alert in the system.

In 1992, OIG investigators developed and provided the INS Investigations Division with about 600 names and A-numbers of aliens implicated as customers in two high profile investigations. In a memorandum dated December 14, 1992, the Associate Commissioner for Enforcement stated that the Investigations Division would take the lead in developing a coding strategy for these two cases and requested that the Office of Examinations develop procedures to be followed should these people seek additional benefits. However, at the time of our inspection, three years later, no coding strategy or procedures had been developed for these two cases.

In 1994, another high profile investigation resulted in the OIG providing over 1,000 names and A-numbers of aliens to the INS Investigations Division. A special code (SDF for Suspected Document Fraud) was developed to be entered into the CIS identifying individuals involved in this fraud. Procedures for the use of the code were never developed and, therefore, no instruction was given to field offices. Ultimately, the SDF code was not used in the CIS.

In summary, INS employees have noted the need for a coding strategy for fraud cases. Headquarters personnel have attempted twice to develop codes in response to specific investigations. Field personnel have attempted to place alerts in CIS and have requested permission to delete fraudulent entries. Although there is recognition at INS Headquarters and in the field that some kind of flagging system is needed, so far no INS entity has been assigned responsibility to develop and implement a coding strategy.

INS Needs To Take Action

In a June 1995 report, the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform estimated that 4 million illegal aliens were in the United States and that the number was growing by 300,000 to 400,000 every year. [/ Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform, Report to the Speaker, The Honorable Newt Gringrich , June 29, 1995.] In Fiscal Year 1995, INS deported 51,000 aliens. The disparity between the number of illegal aliens arriving and those deported suggests that, unless INS takes more action against illegal aliens already in the country, the illegal alien population will continue to grow dramatically. The Task Force report cites studies that show benefits received by illegal aliens cost Federal and state agencies billions of dollars per year. This drain on tax dollars can be reduced if illegal aliens, such as those identified during fraud investigations, are removed from the United States.

Aliens identified as participants in fraud investigations are part of the illegal alien population, and INS needs to take action against illegal aliens about whom it has information.

If INS does not take action against these aliens, it not only misses an opportunity to take advantage of investigative leads, it is not fully discharging its responsibility for this segment of the illegal alien population.

INS' failure to take action against these aliens undermines the credibility of INS' enforcement. It must be made clear throughout the immigrant communities that aliens engaged in fraudulent schemes to obtain benefits to which they are not entitled will risk official penalties. If other aliens see that there are no penalties, more aliens may be tempted to circumvent the system.

INS' failure to delete or correct fraudulent entries or to flag system records also weakens the integrity of the benefit granting process because aliens who have a fraudulently obtained status may obtain additional benefits.

Illegal immigration, with its attendant problems, has been a principal reason for the substantial increase in INS resources over the last several years. These increases should enable INS to locate and remove at least some of the aliens identified as participating in fraud schemes and to take actions that prevent others from receiving benefits. Ordinarily, we would make recommendations concerning locating and deporting aliens known to have participated as customers in criminal fraud schemes. In this instance, the recommendation seems obvious: INS needs to take more action to locate and deport these aliens. However, as a first step, until they can be removed, their status must be accurately reflected in INS' data bases. This action will at least deny them some of the benefits of their document fraud and of their complicity in the bribery of INS employees.

RECOMMENDATION

The Inspections Division recommends that the Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service ensure that INS takes action to:

1. Correct fraudulent data base entries, and develop a flagging system that will alert INS personnel to alien participation in fraud schemes.

#####