Identity change lets some immigrants gain U.S. citizenship

A new government watchdog report shows that at least 858 people who had been ordered out of the United States were actually able to become U.S. citizens by assuming another identity, as investigators blamed holes in major government fingerprint databases, which evidently don't include thousands of records about criminal immigrants, some of whom were from countries with ties to terrorism.

In a review of how the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service checks on applicants, the report from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found "about 148,000 older fingerprint records that have not been digitized of aliens with final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives."

"As long as the older fingerprint records have not been digitized and included in the repositories, USCIS risks making naturalization decisions without complete information and, as a result, naturalizing more individuals who may be ineligible for citizenship or who may be trying to obtain U.S. citizenship fraudulently," the report stated.

This isn't the first time that investigators had raised red flags about fingerprint record troubles and citizenship - in 2008, 206 people who had been ordered deported had been found to have used a different name or date of birth to then gain legal status in the U.S.

The report makes clear that without full fingerprint records, immigration authorities may not be able to perform all the needed checks on those applying for citizenship or legal status - and thus, they are unable to stop those who might fraudulently assume another identity.

The problem is that the fingerprint database doesn't include everything dealing with those who have entered the U.S. illegally - not only do officials face the backlog of digitizing 148,000 records - but the report notes that immigration officials did not always send fingerprint records to the FBI in the past.

"Without this knowledge, adjudicators may grant citizenship to otherwise ineligible individuals," the report noted.

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