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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Government Must Do More To Keep Track of Immigrant Files

To document the interactions of aliens with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and other government entities, USCIS creates alien files, or A-files.

While deemed critical, especially in making citizenship decisions, A-files are sometimes missing during adjudications, according to a government watchdog agency. In 2002, naturalization was granted to an alien whose A-file was missing and who was later found to be associated with a terrorist organization, says a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

GAO found that of the naturalization applications adjudicated in 2005, about 30,000—or about 4 percent of them—may have been adjudicated without A-files. The number may be less because USCIS staff are not required to record whether an A-file was available. USCIS officials said that a major reason A-files were not available for naturalization application adjudications is that staff are not using the automated file-tracking system. USCIS officials suggested that staff might not be using the automated file-tracking system for lack of sufficient training on how to use the system, while local management may not be adequately emphasizing the importance of complying with A-file tracking policies and procedures.

"Missing A-files can have an impact on the process of adjudicating naturalization applications in several ways," says GAO, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress. "For example, when an A-file is not available at the location indicated in the automated file-tracking system, additional time is spent trying to locate the file, which slows the adjudication process and applicants may wait longer for USCIS to process their application. In addition, missing A-files can hinder USCIS’ s ability to uncover immigration benefit fraud and limit DHS’ ability to take enforcement actions."

GAO recommends that USCIS require adjudicators to record whether an A-file was available in naturalization adjudications and, with other DHS users of A-files, determine why staff are not complying with file-tracking procedures and correct any deficiencies. GAO says that DHS agreed with its recommendations.

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