An inspector general released Monday reports that more than 800 individuals from countries of concern to national security or with high rates of immigration fraud were mistakenly granted American citizenship.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted citizenship to at least 858 individuals who were ordered to be deported or removed under another identity, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report.
Those individuals were from so-called special interest countries that represent a U.S. security concern or neighboring countries with a high rate of immigration fraud.
The individuals slipped through the system because their digital fingerprint records were not in the DHS’s or FBI’s databases, according to the audit.
Citizenship and immigration officials discovered that fingerprint records were missing for 315,000 immigrants who had been issued final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives. Officials have not yet reviewed about 148,000 of the records in an effort to digitize them, according to the DHS audit.
That leaves open the possibility of immigrants being granted citizenship without officials having access to their full immigration and criminal history.
Government officials have been aware of the gap in records since at least 2008, when a Customs and Border Protection employee identified 206 cases where immigrants with final deportation orders obtained citizenship or other benefits using another name or other biographical information.
A DHS spokesman said in an emailed statement that immigration officials would review “every file” highlighted in the report as a case of possible fraud and that officials would continue working to digitize their paper fingerprint records.
“The fact that fingerprint records in these cases may have been incomplete at the time of the naturalization interview does not necessarily mean that the applicant was in fact granted naturalization, or that the applicant obtained naturalization fraudulently,” the spokesman noted.
“Preliminary results from the file reviews show that in a significant number of these cases naturalization had been denied and that, in some, naturalization was not improperly granted.”
The spokesman noted that some cases were subject to ongoing criminal investigation.
This story was updated at 4:01 p.m.