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U.S. House of Representatives

Committee on the Judiciary

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., Chairman



News Advisory

For immediate release                                                            Contact: Jeff Lungren/Terry Shawn

February 15, 2002                                                                              202-225-2492

GAO Report Finds “Pervasive and Serious Problem” with Immigration Benefit Fraud

Terrorists and Drug Dealers Manipulating Benefits Application Process To Carry Out Criminal Activities


WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI) and Immigration and Claims Subcommittee Chairman George W. Gekas (R-PA) today released a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO) describing an immigration system manipulated by terrorists and other criminal aliens to carry out violent or other unlawful activities.

The report finds, “Immigration benefit fraud is a significant problem that threatens the integrity of the legal immigration system. Aliens apply to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) for such benefits as naturalization, work authorization, and adjustment of status. Immigration benefit fraud involves attempts by aliens to obtain such benefits through illegal means (e.g., using fraudulent documents).” The report also details the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s failure to root out fraud in the immigration benefits application process.

Chairman Sensenbrenner stated, “This report raises a whole host of troubling homeland security threats posed by an immigration benefits process wrought with fraud. In fact, the GAO finds that the INS does not even know the extent of the problem. Based on this report, I’m not confident that the INS isn’t giving green cards to Al Queda operatives. We have a complete failure by the INS to take the steps necessary to protect the people of the United States and the immigration system itself from criminals manipulating the benefits process. These findings support the urgent need for a comprehensive legislative restructuring of the INS.”

Chairman Gekas said, “The INS has shown itself unable to focus its efforts to address fraud in the benefits process, and to utilize its resources effectively. Even at this late date, the INS does not appear to have a plan to coordinate its efforts to pinpoint fraud and to punish those aliens who are attempting to obtain benefits illegally. Given the GAO’s conclusions in this report and the INS’s backlog in adjudicating applications, which now numbers in the millions, it is apparent that INS has failed in its responsibility to provide immigration benefits to those who are entitled to them and to deny them to those who are not.”

Chairman Sensenbrenner noted the INS restructuring legislation that he and Chairman Gekas have introduced (H.R. 3231) will establish an office charged with monitoring and assessing how well the government balances these responsibilities. Such oversight is necessary to ensure that immigration benefits adjudicators don’t reduce backlogs by rubberstamping applications, and don’t sacrifice quality for quantity in the adjudications process. Chairman Sensenbrenner commented, “These benefits are valuable to the people who are patiently waiting for them, but we must not allow these benefits to provide a door into this country for those coming here to do us harm.”

Key findings in the GAO report include:

          A 90 percent fraud rate was found in one review of a targeted group of 5,000 petitions. A follow-up analysis of about 1,500 petitions found only one was not fraudulent.


          Benefit fraud is a comparatively low priority within the INS; without improvements in its benefit fraud investigations, the INS’s ability to detect the number of ineligible aliens improperly applying for benefits will be hampered.


          A senior INS official has testified to Congress that criminal aliens and terrorists manipulate the benefit application process to facilitate expansion of their illegal activities, such as crimes of violence, narcotics trafficking, terrorism, and entitlement fraud.


          The GAO was told by an INS official that fraud is probably involved in about 20 to 30 percent of all applications filed.


          The INS’s approach to addressing benefit fraud is fragmented and unfocused.


          There is no assurance that INS reviews are adequate for detecting noncompliance or abuse during application processing.


          Some adjudication officers have had to sneak over to the operations unit to discuss fraud-related issues because adjudication officers are discouraged from taking the time to discuss questionable cases with investigators.


          INS officials said that fraud is “rampant across the country” and “out of control.”


          INS officials indicate that the immigration benefit fraud problem will increase as smugglers and other criminal enterprises use fraud as another means of bringing illegal aliens, including criminal aliens, into the country.


          The INS fails to balance its responsibility to provide immigration benefits with its duty to detect fraud in the immigration process. The GAO concluded that “emphasis has been placed on timely processing of applications, allowing quality to suffer. This has contributed to the increase in benefit fraud.”

The GAO report is available at