The federal government’s system of tracking immigration status is so broken that it gives a green light to one in eight aliens who have been ordered deported, according to an audit Tuesday that found the government has gone on to approve some of those who slip through for work in sensitive areas of airports and granted them benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps.
Some of those aliens who should have been kicked out had serious criminal records, including assault and extortion convictions, according to the audit by the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general.
All told, some 800,000 immigrants are living in the U.S. who already have been ordered deported but have not yet left the country or been removed by the government.
The Homeland Security Department is supposed to maintain an up-to-date list of those deportable aliens so that other government agencies are aware of their status and know they should be denied benefits. The system is known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements program, or SAVE.
But a random sample of queries to the system found that 12 percent of the time, the system OKs an immigrant who should have been deported.
“The failures in our sample include individuals who applied for unemployment and disability insurance, food stamps, driver’s licenses and other benefits,” the auditors said. “Several individuals had criminal records, including assault with a deadly weapon, extortion, drug convictions and other convictions such as burglary, stalking and child abuse.”
The SAVE system, maintained by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is one key check other agencies use to weed out illegal immigrants who apply for benefits. It is supposed to be used by states when determining whether to issue driver’s licenses, and President Obama’s health-care law requires it be checked to make sure ineligible immigrants aren’t getting new health benefits.
“The ultimate decision to provide or deny benefits rests with the federal, state, and local agencies that submitted the verification inquiry,” the auditors said. “However, by erroneously verifying that a deportable individual has status to receive benefits, SAVE may have enabled the inquiring agency to grant financial and other benefits (e.g., access to secure areas, education grants, and housing assistance) to people who are no longer eligible to receive those benefits.”
Immigrants can be ordered deported for many reasons. Some are illegal immigrants who were never granted admission in the first place, while others are legal immigrants or temporary visa holders who committed crimes that are supposed to result in deportation.
The auditors found one case where someone earned a green card in 1983, was convicted of multiple felonies including extortion and abuse, and was ordered deported in 2003, but the SAVE system still green-lighted the person when the California Department of Health Services checked his status.
Another man was convicted of homicide and manslaughter, was ordered deported but was still green-lighted by SAVE when the District of Columbia checked to see if he was eligible for student aid. The auditors said that man has since been deported.
In his official response to the audit, USCIS Director Alejandro N. Mayorkas said Homeland Security officials recognize they need to do a better job of updating the records.
He said part of the problem is that the records span multiple agencies, including USCIS and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“USClS will work with ICE to map a way forward to ensure that more timely information is shared,” he said.