- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

A top immigration official accused of misleading Congress on whether a Clinton administration program was used to allow thousands of foreign nationals with criminal records to become U.S. citizens now heads a fraud and national security program at the Department of Homeland Security.

Louis D. “Don” Crocetti, whose credibility before a House subcommittee was challenged by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, now heads the Office of Fraud Detection and National Security, which, among other things, is responsible for criminal background checks on foreign nationals seeking naturalization.

The appointment was quietly announced in May by Eduardo Aguirre, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), a Homeland Security agency that took over many of the functions of the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Several CIS officials questioned the Crocetti appointment, telling The Washington Times there were concerns whether he could effectively oversee fraud and national security inquiries based on his performance at the INS.

The Inspector General’s Office, in a stinging August 2000 report, said Mr. Crocetti — as associate commissioner for an INS program known as Citizenship USA (CUSA) — misled a House subcommittee on whether law enforcement background checks were being conducted on foreign nationals seeking U.S. citizenship under CUSA.

More than 1 million people became U.S. citizens as a result of CUSA, which was vigorously endorsed by the Clinton administration but attacked by critics as an election-year ploy to speed naturalizations for political gain — noting that the program targeted INS districts in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City and San Francisco.

Mr. Crocetti’s new job is to upgrade the legal immigration system to address national security concerns, develop and coordinate anti-fraud operations, and ensure that foreign nationals seeking naturalization undergo law-enforcement background checks.

CIS spokesman Chris Bentley declined comment on written questions concerning Mr. Crocetti, but said the agency has “the highest level of confidence in every senior leader,” noting that each was “thoroughly vetted and properly instructed before assuming their current responsibility.

“We have no reason to lack confidence in our process or in our employees’ ability to serve in their positions within our organization,” Mr. Bentley said.

But according to the IG’s 684-page report, it was “widely known” among INS officials in Washington that thousands of foreign nationals with criminal records were allowed to complete the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens.

And for his part, Mr. Crocetti told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, international affairs and criminal justice in September 1996 he was aware of only 60 questionable cases.

The report said that a month before his testimony, INS headquarters had directed its field offices to respond to press reports that criminal rap sheets were arriving at INS offices for persons already naturalized. It said that prior to Mr. Crocetti’s testimony, field offices had reported that 100 cases were under review for denaturalization because of a failure to reveal criminal histories and that rap sheets in another 750 cases still needed review.

“Despite the information INS headquarters had gathered in August, Crocetti told the subcommittee … INS was aware of only 60 confirmed cases that would require denaturalization because of a disqualifying criminal history that had been reviewed after the applicant had naturalized,” said acting Inspector General Robert L. Ashbaugh.

“The testimony was misleading because by then INS headquarters had learned from the field that at least 850 cases were under review. Nor was the apparent understatement explained by Crocetti’s qualification that only 60 cases had been confirmed, because at that time INS had not confirmed that any case would warrant denaturalization proceedings,” Mr. Ashbaugh said.

Immediately after Mr. Crocetti testified, the report said, the IG’s office learned that more than 1,300 rap sheets on CUSA applicants had not been reviewed before the individuals were naturalized. Work in other districts later revealed large numbers of unreviewed rap sheets, including 1,000 in Los Angeles and 900 in Miami that had either been received after naturalization or received in time but not reviewed.

“While Crocetti’s testimony … was couched in concrete numbers and confident assurances, it was in fact based on little review of the information then available,” Mr. Ashbaugh said.

The IG’s report concluded that the INS compromised the integrity of the naturalization process as a result of “its efforts to process applicants more quickly and meet a self-imposed goal of completing more than a million cases by the end of fiscal 1996.”

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