April 6, 2006 -- The agency that's supposed to protect our borders and keep out terrorists is riddled with fraud and corruption, according to testimony before Congress today.
A House subcommittee heard from Michael J. Maxwell, former director of the office of security and investigations of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. He portrayed a dysfunctional agency crippled by corruption both inside and outside that's trying to handle too many cases with too few employees.
"The integrity of the United States immigration system has been corrupted, and the system is incapable of ensuring the security of our homeland," Maxwell told the committee.
He told of overworked immigration officials pressured into approving requests to enter the United States even if proper security checks had not been done.
"Employees are tempted to grant benefits in order to receive cash, promotions, time off rather than deny the benefit," he said. He accused supervisors of putting pressure on workers to handle 12 to 16 applications an hour, which he called a dangerously high caseload.
In one example, Maxwell said, the agency employed an Iraqi-born U.S. citizen suspected of being a foreign intelligence agent to review asylum applications.
The USCIS said the agency's inspector general is investigating Maxwell's allegations. USCIS spokeswoman Angelica Alfonso-Royals told The Associated Press today that the agency's top priority "continues to be preserving and enhancing the integrity of the immigration system." She said the agency has confidence in the system but continually strives for improvement and "it takes allegations seriously."
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Edward Royce, R-Calif., feared terrorists could enter our borders. "There are dozens of terrorists who have defrauded our immigration system, including many since 9/11, to remain in this country," he said.
Maxwell related the story of one manager who told him of "benefits parties" at the end of the month where the immigration employees who cleared the most cases were given cash prizes. "We also have documentation where performance appraisals, promotions, if you will, are based upon the number of affirmative adjudications," he said.
He warned that terrorists could exploit the weaknesses in the immigration agency and enter the United States. "It is clear that the system that exists now, the process that exists now cannot suitably protect the homeland based on the workload we have now," Maxwell said.
Royce said immigration officials aren't taking seriously their responsibility to counter terrorism. "The system, it's clear, is rigged to approve immigration applications and the system is rigged to shortchange security," he concluded.