The U.S. Department of Homeland Security ("DHS")'s Office of Inspector General ("OIG") recently published a report after conducting a detailed "Review of the USCIS Benefit Fraud Referral Process." The Report contains some interesting facts and observations. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") processes approximately 6 million applications and petitions seeking immigration benefits annually. USCIS employs approximately 3,500 adjudicators whose mission is to decide those petitions and applications. The USCIS Office of Fraud Detection and National Security ("FDNS") employs approximately 315 officers. Therefore, there is approximately 1 fraud officer for each 100 USCIS adjudicators.
The OIG examined the eight areas of benefits fraud assessment that the DHS FDNS initiated in March 2005. In the employment-based area, these included but were not limited to H-1B, L-1A and I-140 Immigrant Petitions. The general observations of the Report are that the greatest prevalence of fraud is in religious worker visa petitions. In addition, USCIS adjudicators are required to refer all articulable instances of fraud to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") under a "100%"referral policy. However, OIG found that this was a waste of resources because ICE generally only has the resources to pursue pervasive (more than "single incident") cases of fraud, and USCIS does not do a good job of exhausting its means of administrative remedies to combat and punish fraud, such as by issuing Notices to Appear for removal (deportation) proceedings rather than by issuing just denials, when ICE declines to investigate a fraud referral from USCIS.
The OIG report makes a number of recommendations including that USCIS should redesign its databases to enhance already in existence data mining capability to assist USCIS in identifying and punishing fraud. In addition, the OIG suggests a revamping of USCIS’ fraud referral and handling policy.
The OIG report contains interesting quotes from FDNS and USCIS officers who were interviewed for the report. One FDNS officer is quoted as stating, "Congress has been told by FDNS that there is a bunch of fraud, so Congress is asking for the proof. HQ FDNS is asking the field to find the fraud so it can be shown to Congress. And I sense HQ FDNS' frustration with the field because we aren't finding it. Some of the leadership personnel have never been adjudicators, so they are completely out of touch with reality." Of course, USCIS did find fraud in a number of petitions and applications, and those who perpetrated such fraud typically had their petitions or applications denied and, in some instances, received a referral for removal (deportation).
Petitioners and applicants should carefully check all representations contained in their petitions and applications filed with USCIS to ensure that all statements of fact are accurate and defensible. Information contained in immigration cases can emanate from a variety of parties including the employee, managerial staff, and third parties so it is critical to ensure that the information that is often synthesized from multiple sources is carefully checked for accuracy and truthfulness.