Department of Homeland Security Granted Citizenship to Hundreds of People Who Were Supposed to be Deported Because of Flaws in Fingerprint Records

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The Department of Homeland Security granted citizenship to hundreds of people who had previously been ordered deported or removed under different names because of flaws in keeping fingerprint records, according to a report released Monday.

The report from the department’s Office of Inspector General found that nearly 900 individuals were granted citizenship because neither the agency nor the F.B.I. databases contained all of the fingerprint records of people who had previously been ordered to be deported.

Nearly 150,000 older fingerprint records were not digitized or simply were not included in the Department of Homeland Security’s databases when they were being developed, the report said. In other cases, fingerprints that were taken by immigration officials during the deportation process were not forwarded to the F.B.I.

“This situation created opportunities for individuals to gain rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship through fraud,” said John Roth, the inspector general at Homeland Security.

The report comes as members of Congress, Homeland Security and intelligence officials have undertaken a broader examination of the nation’s immigration policy and have raised concern about individuals with ties to terrorist groups gaining entry into the United States. The examination began in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris in November and the shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., that left 14 people dead in December.

After the attacks, President Obama signed legislation that tightened visa waivers to make it harder for travelers to enter the United States from Europe if they had dual citizenship from Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, or had visited one of those countries in the previous five years.

About 38 countries, mostly in Europe, participate in the visa-waiver program, which allows their citizens to visit the United States without a visa on trips of 90 days or less. Homeland Security officials have also begun an extensive review of the K-1 visa, also known as a fiancé visa, which allowed Tashfeen Malik, one of the attackers in San Bernardino, to enter the United States.

Officials say the findings illustrate a major security gap.

“This failure represents a significant risk to America’s national security as these naturalized individuals have access to serve in positions of public trust and the ability to obtain security clearances,” Senator Ron Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, wrote in a letter to Jeh Johnson, the secretary of homeland security.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Ron Nixon