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U.S. Failed To Do Thousands Of Background Checks

Immigration agency failed to do criminal background checks on up to 180,000 immigrants last year


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 25) -- Two Republican House members say the Immigration and Naturalization Service may have failed to conduct criminal background checks on nearly 180,000 of the one million immigrants who became U.S. citizens last year.

An audit of INS records from last year found that the agency has no record of requesting the checks on about 66,000 applicants for citizenship. In another 113,000 cases, the INS requested background checks, but those were not completed by the FBI because fingerprint cards were incompletely filled out or were smudged.

"In its unprecedented push to rush through a million new citizens, potential voters all, the INS may have allowed dangerous criminals onto our streets, all the while denying it was doing exactly that," said Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who chairs the Government Reform and Oversight panel that is looking into the matter

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who heads up the House Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee, said, "It's worse than I expected. This is a complete outrage and a travesty of what should be a completely honest, straightforward and nonpolitical process."

Smith's and Hastert's panels are planning a hearing March 5 to investigate the matter.

Of those on whom the INS did complete background checks, 18 percent were rejected, suggesting that thousands of people may have been naturalized who would have been weeded out with a background check. The INS has vowed to rescind the citizenship of anyone who received it improperly, a process the agency usually undertakes only a handful of times a year.

The actual numbers of those admitted without background checks may turn out to be somewhat lower once a more detailed audit is done, says the INS, but, as Justice spokeswoman Carole Florman told The Associated Press, "The Justice Department is assuming until shown otherwise that those people were not checked."

The INS denies it had political goals in naturalizing so many people in an election year. The agency says its goal of naturalizing one million people during 1996 -- a rate much higher than usual -- was established to reduce its two-year backlog, agency officials say. The INS managed to whittle the backlog down to six months.

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