GAO Report Indicates Up to 30,000 Citizenship Applications Processed Without Consulation of Important Background Materials

Senators Chuck Grassley and Susan Collins today released a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that says 111,000 alien files (A-files) were missing in 14 United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) offices. The report also says that as many as 30,000 immigrants’ applications to become U.S. citizens were processed despite the missing files.

USCIS is responsible for processing noncitizens’ applications to live or work in the U.S., either permanently or on a temporary basis, or to become a U.S. citizen. For certain noncitizens, such as immigrants, USCIS creates an alien file, called an A-file, to serve as the primary file for all the noncitizen’s immigration-related applications and related documents. Not only does USCIS staff rely on an alien’s historical A-file to determine eligibility for immigration benefits, but other federal homeland security and law enforcement agencies use A-files during criminal investigations and to determine whether an alien should be removed from or allowed to stay in the U.S.

Senators Grassley and Collins requested the report after the Immigration and Naturalization Service granted U.S. citizenship to a suspected terrorist, without checking his A-file, which had been lost. His citizenship application was therefore approved despite indications in his A-file about ties to a terrorist organization.

“It only takes one missing file of somebody with links to a terrorist organization to become an American citizen. A terrorist can be unsuccessful thousands of times, but we have to be perfect all the time,” Grassley said. “We can’t afford to be handing out citizenship with blinders on.”

“We should remember that some of the September 11th hijackers had come into the country with legal visas but were allowed to get ‘lost in the system’ before they surfaced again to unleash their attack. It is unthinkable that since then, our immigration system still allows a person with known terrorist ties to become a citizen simply because they can’t find the person’s file,” said Senator Collins. “It is imperative to homeland security as well as the immigration and citizenship process, that the government do a better job of tracking all those who are allowed to enter our country and perform thorough and complete background checks before they are allowed to become citizens.”

The Senators said the missing files not only cause great concern for security, but the missing files also cause unnecessary delays for thousands of honest, hardworking immigrants trying to become U.S. citizens.

USCIS manages more than 55 million A-files. The GAO study found that USCIS may not have used A-files in processing 30,000 naturalization applications out of the 715,000 processed in 2005. DHS, which includes USCIS, agreed with the GAO’s recommendations to require A-file users to record whether an A-file was used to process a naturalization application and to correct any identified deficiencies in file tracking compliance.

A copy of the GAO report can be found on Grassley’s website: .