- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 9, 2006

Lawmakers who think the United States government could process 11 million illegal aliens in a “guest worker” program should be forced to listen to what whistleblower Michael J. Maxwell told a panel of angry lawmakers last week. Mr. Maxwell — who recently resigned as head of security and investigations at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services — demonstrated that the government can’t even handle the workload it has now without serious security breaches and incompetence.

Most troubling is the revelation that starting in January 2005, most USCIS investigators were blocked from accessing important types of national-security and law-enforcement information, including terrorist watch lists, that they needed to determine whether an applicant should be denied. The loss to Mr. Maxwell’s investigators of parts of the Treasury Enforcement Communications System — a gateway to two dozen law-enforcement and intelligence agencies — resulted in “a system that rewards criminals and facilitates the movement of terrorists” which Mr. Maxwell believes to be “incapable of ensuring the security of our homeland.”

In other cases, officials failed to match photos and fingerprints on applications; in Texas, officials developed an “auto-adjudication” system in which no official would physically examine an application for signs of fraud.

The problem isn’t just for applicants for entry; it is also an inability to investigate immigration officials who have potentially committed criminal acts or espionage. There were reports of homeland-security officials allowing outsiders access to databases and even of foreign-intelligence agents posing as U.S. immigration officials which authorities have been incapable of resolving for what sound like purely bureaucratic reasons or reasons of turf protection.

Then there were mind-boggling instances of incompetence, including parties, vacations and other rewards for officials who processed applications quickly. The entire system is built to facilitate speedy approval of applications, not to scrutinize with care, Mr. Maxwell said.

In broad strokes, the Government Accountability Office confirmed some of this last month when it reported that USCIS has a backlog of “several million applicants” and as currently designed bows to customer-service logic: “It would be impossible for USCIS to verify all of the key information or interview all individuals related to the million of applications it adjudicates each year, approximately 7.5 million applications in fiscal year 2005, without seriously compromising its service-related objectives.”

Troublingly, Homeland Security officials have tried to shut Mr. Maxwell up. “enior government officials are aware of the vulnerabilities and have chosen to ignore them,” he said. “These same officials actually ordered me to ignore national security vulnerabilities I identified, even though my job was to address them.”

This story is not finished. Officials who want Mr. Maxwell to keep quiet are trying to cover up their own incompetence. With sunshine as our best disinfectant, it’s time to examine what went wrong and why, and who is responsible.

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