Immigration Officers Barred From Key Data

Jerry Kammer, Copley News Service, March 7, 2006

WASHINGTON—Many immigration officers handling requests for green cards, citizenship and other immigration benefits do not have access to key law enforcement and national security databases, said a top federal security official who quit over the issue.

The officers’ access to the databases, which would allow them to check whether an applicant had a criminal record or was on the terrorism watch list, was cut off because the government has failed to complete required background checks on the immigration adjudicators.

Michael Maxwell stepped down last month as director of the Office of Security at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and sought protection under the federal whistle-blower protection law. He claims that senior agency officials had been retaliating against him for telling Congress about what he described as serious national security vulnerabilities that persisted despite his warnings to those running the agency.

In addition, Maxwell claims the agency lacks the resources to handle some 500 allegations of criminal misconduct against agency employees, including allegations of espionage and acceptance of bribes.

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Beyond their implications for efforts to prevent terrorism, Maxwell’s allegations raise questions about proposals by President Bush and members of Congress to grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants after clearing them through security checks.

Maxwell declined requests for on-the-record interviews.

One of his attorneys, Rosemary Jenks, said his concerns demonstrate an underlying tension between Citizenship and Immigration Services’ dual missions of providing immigration benefits to applicants and of protecting national security.

“They always look for a shortcut when it comes to security,” Jenks said.

She noted that acting CIS Deputy Director Robert Divine is a former member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, which lobbies for generous immigration policies.

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