- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2016

A key member of Congress introduced a bill Thursday that would halt all new naturalizations until the Obama administration can prove it is checking immigrants’ fingerprints to make sure they shouldn’t be deported instead of granted citizenship.

About 750 immigrants were granted citizenship despite a judge’s order that they be deported. Homeland Security botched the approvals because the immigrants gave false names and officials couldn’t check their fingerprints to discover their real identities because the prints were on paper-based cards, an internal investigation revealed.

Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican and chairman of the appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Justice Department, said until nearly 150,000 remaining paper-based prints are uploaded, nobody else should be approved.

“My bill forces DHS to upload all of the remaining paper fingerprint records into the government database so that there will never be any excuse for this to happen again,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Culberson also asked for pending citizenship applications to be run against the fingerprint database to make sure nobody slips through. And he called for the Justice Department to be told of such cases, so they can be denaturalized and deported.

Congress left town Wednesday for six weeks, so the legislation won’t see any action before then.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been approving about 60,000 citizenship applications a month this year, but has ramped up efforts ahead of the November election.

But the citizenship grants, identified by the Homeland Security inspector general last week, have proved a major black eye for the administration.

The initial report said 858 immigrants from terrorism hot spots were wrongly granted citizenship. Secretary Jeh Johnson this week said the number is actually about 750, and he said his department is trying to revoke citizenship for some of them.

“There is a process underway right now, an investigation, to denaturalize a number of those who should not have been naturalized as a result of what occurred,” he told Congress.

Mr. Johnson said the department is also working to get the remaining fingerprints into digital form, and said he expects it will take another nine months.

In 2012 Congress carved out $5 million for Homeland Security to digitize its legacy fingerprints, and the department said it made some progress. But the money ran out before they were finished, leaving some 148,000 aliens who have been ordered deported but whose fingerprints still aren’t in the electronic IDENT system the department uses.

The inspector general first flagged the problem in 2008 after a Customs and Border Protection officer reported some 206 people from four danger-spot countries. Homeland Security launched an effort, dubbed Operation Janus, to try to keep eyes on troubling cases but it was eliminated earlier this year, and the staff disbanded.

Before it was canceled, operation Janus had identified some 120 immigrants deemed to be worthy of prosecution out of the 750 citizenship cases. The inspector general said the Justice Department only accepted two of those cases.

At least two of the 750 have been investigated by the FBI for ties to terrorism, but FBI Director James Comey, asked about it when he testified to Congress alongside Mr. Johnson this week, said he was unaware of the details.

For his part Mr. Johnson said he had “no basis to believe that any of them were terrorists or suspected terrorists.”

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