Audit Faults Delays in Immigrant Name Checks

By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The FBI system for checking the names of immigration applicants suffers from "serious deficiencies" that have produced overwhelming backlogs and questions about the reliability of the information, an internal audit has found.

The bureau's name checks have fallen victim to "outdated and inefficient technology" as well as inadequately trained employees, according to a report issued yesterday by the Justice Department inspector general.

More than 327,000 requests were pending as of March, the report said. The reviews are required before applicants can win citizenship, enter the United States to work and study or receive other benefits.

The delays have been the focus of persistent criticism by judges, lawmakers and immigration advocates.

"The FBI's name-check process needs significant improvement," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said.

About 86 percent of the requests are dispatched within two months, the inspector general found. But of those remaining, the process can take months if not years to complete.

The FBI receives more than 4 million name-check bids per year, about half of which come from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In some cases, the IG report said, trouble with processing name checks may hamper efforts to deport people who pose national security threats.

The system derailed five years ago after the Department of Homeland Security submitted in one fell swoop 2.7 million requests to gain more information about applicants. The paper records at issue can spread across more than 250 bureau field offices throughout the world, the investigative report said.

Rather than overhaul its systems, the bureau instead employed "small band-aids" to patch over problems, one unnamed FBI records employee told investigators.

FBI officials tried to demonstrate that they would address the problems by developing target dates for reducing the backlog.

Michael Cannon, a chief in the FBI's records management division, told reporters that the bureau has hired scores of contract workers with security clearances to help process the applications. By November, he said, all requests more than one year old would be completed.

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