Politics & Policy

No One’s Minding the Store

The president’s immigration-amnesty program could result in a flood of fraud.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials tasked with preventing fraud from taking place are instead being forced to do administrative work, according to the federal official who created and directed the division of the government responsible for preventing immigration fraud. Opponents and supporters of President Obama’s executive action on immigration say the Department of Homeland Security is not prepared to handle the fraud that will come from the implementation of amnesty. The sheer volume of applications the department could receive — millions are expected — will make it difficult to weed out document fraud and instances of false representation.

Despite the increasing potential for fraud, Louis “Don” Crocetti Jr., the architect and former director of USCIS’s Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate, says the Obama administration has stopped conducting fraud assessments entirely. The directorate’s primary responsibility is to determine whether individuals or organizations that file for immigration benefits pose a threat to the nation. Crocetti, who built and led the directorate from 2004 until 2011, says he does not think USCIS has conducted one immigration-benefit fraud assessment in the past five years. Such assessments allow government officials to identify instances and causes of fraud and then determine possible corrective actions.  

Yet fraud has been a persistent problem. In almost every assessment conducted during Crocetti’s time with the directorate, he says, a significant amount of fraud was discovered. According to Crocetti, the directorate routinely discovered that more than 10 percent of the items surveyed in its assessments was deemed fraudulent.

“I think if the agency and the department were truly that concerned about detecting and combating fraud, they would have started resuming the benefit-fraud assessment years ago,” he says. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Crocetti expects an “astronomical” number of forged and falsified documents to result from the president’s executive action on immigration and does not believe the Obama administration is making the effort to prevent such fraud. In fact, counterfeiters may have already begun creating false records for illegal immigrants seeking to take advantage of the amnesty, Ronald Colburn, former national deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, previously told NRO. Crocetti thinks some illegal immigrants will also claim false relationships with lawful residents in order to benefit from the executive action’s extension of deferred action on deportation to the parents of lawful residents.

The amnesty could also worsen problems at the southern border. “What it does is exacerbate the problem that we have,” he says. “It’s going to increase the number of illegal entries, it’s going to increase the number of legal entries that decide to overstay their visit and work and become illegal, [and] it’s going to say we’re not a country that abides by laws.”

Instead of doing fraud assessments, Crocetti says the Obama administration has tasked officials with administrative work. This means officials are conducting compliance reviews, which include unannounced site visits to make sure that both non-immigrants and employers are conducting their business appropriately, instead of finding ways to prevent fraud. Crocetti tells NRO he developed both the fraud assessments and compliance reviews and considers both operations crucial, but he adds that contractors who lack immigration expertise can conduct compliance reviews.

 But those who share the Obama administration’s position on immigration policy are not nearly as concerned about the vulnerabilities in the president’s executive action. Marc R. Rosenblum, from the pro-amnesty Migration Policy Institute, says he thinks there will be a lesser degree of fraud from Obama’s executive action than from the 1986 amnesty signed into law by President Reagan. He tells NRO he expects less fraud because of new technology and his presumption that fewer “unauthorized immigrants” than expected will apply for amnesty because of the risk of coming out of the shadows. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency has not answered NRO’s requests for comment.  

Those who witnessed immigration fraud under the 1986 law warn that it could happen again. In 1995, The Department of Justice convicted Jose Velez, former president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, on ten counts of immigration fraud. Velez sought to exploit the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and conspired to provide false documents and statements to the government for illegal immigrants looking for amnesty. Arnoldo Torres served as the national political adviser of Velez’s organization from 1989 to 1990 and helped Velez gain control of LULAC. He tells NRO that Velez had concocted an elaborate scheme that involved busing illegal immigrants from Los Angeles, Calif., to Las Vegas, Nev., where they enjoyed the casinos and signed amnesty applications at the same time. Velez was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Despite the passage of time, Torres says, it’s still “very possible” that similar fraud will occur because the illegal-immigrant community is desperate. “The risk continues to take place, there is no doubt,” he says. “You don’t have the infrastructure within DHS that can provide technical support (to handle the executive action).”

The USCIS officials charged with fighting fraud are demoralized, Crocetti says, and are stuck in an outdated system that cannot handle all of the challenges the Department of Homeland Security faces. The administration never conducted an immigration-benefit fraud assessment on President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, he says, which is a program that shielded certain illegal immigrants from deportation. He says his colleagues at the directorate say “there is no specific anti-fraud effort being undertaken nor was there ever an anti-fraud component of the DACA program, that they didn’t even interview individuals.” He adds that people who work at the directorate are uncomfortable sharing their concerns publicly because they fear that they will lose their jobs. Crocetti thinks the Obama administration’s negligence is not a sign of malicious intent, but instead shows that it lacks commitment and interest in preventing immigration fraud.

Crocetti believes the way the federal government deals with immigration has not changed enough in the past 100 years, and he thinks the government can produce a system that could better screen criminals and terrorists from entering the country. He says the system would include a database that gathers biographical and biometric information from foreign nationals who come to America and then cross-references that information with databases and watch lists from the law-enforcement, national-security, and intelligence communities.

In the absence of new technology, the best chance to diminish the problems in America’s immigration system may rely upon the conflict between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of immigration. “The only potential salvage in any of this that could possibly minimize the negative consequences is the fact that the Republicans are very vocal in letting everyone know that they oppose it,” he says. The major disagreement between the two parties on immigration will discourage illegal immigrants living in the country from applying for amnesty, he says, but will not necessarily keep out foreign nationals who are aware of the administration’s relaxed enforcement priorities. Regardless of which party’s immigration policy ultimately triumphs, fraudsters may still take advantage of the system’s serious vulnerabilities.   

 — Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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