The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced a new coordinated effort to aggressively track down, prosecute and denaturalize individuals who gain citizenship through deceit or fraud.
In an interview with the Associated Press, USCIS Director L. Francis Cissna said the agency intends to hire several dozen lawyers and immigration officers to review cases involving those who received deportation orders, but then used fake documents to get green cards and then citizenship.
The investigative group will receive funds from the existing budget and will refer any eligible cases to the Justice Department. Upon review, Justice will decide whether to proceed with civil denaturalization lawsuits or, when warranted, criminal charges for fraud.
While denaturalization historically has involved those charged with genocide or war crimes, Cissna is believes it can be an effective tool.
“We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place,” said Cissna, who added the cases of fraud could number in the thousands.
In 2016, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiative, known as Operation Janus, identified 858 individuals obtained citizenship unlawfully because of missing fingerprint records.
Although they were to be deported, a lack of fingerprint records allowed them to slip through the naturalization process.
That is the tip of the iceberg as Operation Janus identified 315,000 cases where some data was missing from the centralized digital fingerprint repository.
Justice filed its three denaturalization complaints in September 2017 and obtained the first conviction in January 2018. Less than a month later, Justice filed a civil complaint against Mubarak Ahmed Hamed, a diversity lottery winner who illegally sent non-profit funds to a group sanctioned by the U.S.
After years of taking a hands-off approach to immigration fraud, the decision by USCIS is a necessary step in the right direction.