Michael R. Bromwich Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice
United States Senate Subcommittee on Immigration Committee on the Judiciary
"Immigration and Naturalization Service Oversight: Reforming the Naturalization Process"
March 5, 1998
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
It is a pleasure to appear before you today to testify about the recent citizenship testing fraud investigation that my office has conducted, in conjunction with the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of California and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. On January 23, 1998, twenty people were indicted by a federal grand jury in Sacramento for their participation in schemes to fraudulently obtain naturalization documents for aliens. At this point, nineteen of the twenty defendants have been apprehended and their cases are pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. Because the cases are pending, and the investigation is continuing, I may have to limit what I say in certain respects in fairness to the defendants who face trial and to protect the continuing investigation. With these cautions, I am happy to testify about the background and nature of the case.
Applicants for naturalization must take a standardized test that requires the applicant to demonstrate skill in written English and knowledge of United States government and history. In 1991, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which had previously administered the English and civics test internally, instituted a new citizenship testing program. Private testing entities selected by INS were permitted to administer the test. An applicant with a passing certificate issued by one of the testing organizations would not be retested in English and civics during the mandatory, in-person naturalization interview conducted by INS employees.
Six national testing organizations were initially authorized by INS to conduct the tests. Apart from the invitation to bid that was issued when INS was soliciting the participation of testing organizations, we are not aware of any contracts, agreements, or understandings that clearly established the relationship between INS and those organizations. The testing organizations did not administer the tests themselves; rather, they hired hundreds of subcontractors -- that is, other individuals or businesses -- to run the testing sites at which the tests were given. One of the reasons for privatizing this aspect of the citizenship process was to provide a less threatening context for citizenship applicants to take the written English and civics examination, in or close to their own communities. Unfortunately, the goal of providing a more congenial -- and more convenient -- environment in which to take the examination was achieved at the cost of eliminating any meaningful oversight over the process.
In 1995, the Office of the Inspector General was alerted by one of the national testing organizations about possible improprieties by some of the test administrators. In addition, INS and the OIG were receiving information from INS immigration examiners that certain applicants could not complete the naturalization interview because of their inability to understand English and yet these applicants possessed test certificates indicating that they had passed a written English test. As a result the OIG began an investigation that was conducted jointly with the INS, whose agents served in an undercover capacity on a number of occasions.
The eighteen month investigation involved over one hundred interviews, physical surveillance of testing sites, and undercover operations. The investigation disclosed that many of the subcontractors were fraudulently obtaining passing certificates from the national testing organizations on behalf of the citizenship applicants . For fees ranging from $150 to $300 or more, the subcontractors would guarantee the applicant a passing certificate and then engage in various forms of fraud in order to fulfill that promise.
The fraudulent schemes used by the subcontractors varied. In some instances, the applicant was instructed to mark his or her answer lightly with a pencil and then the incorrect answers were changed subsequently. Sometimes the administrators would write down the correct answer and show it to the applicants during the test. On other occasions the test was simply not given at all. For example, we were informed by one of the national testing organizations that a test was scheduled to be given at a particular time, on a particular date, and at a specific location. Surveillance of the site at the scheduled time showed that in fact no testing took place. Yet, tests allegedly given at that site for that date were later submitted to the national testing organization and passing certificates were obtained, as if legitimate testing had in fact taken place. The random spot checks that were performed on occasions when the tests were actually administered were ineffective: many of the acts of fraud that our investigation found to have been committed occurred after the people taking the test had left the premises and before the tests were submitted to the national testing organizations.
The twenty individuals named in the indictments operated outside the guidelines and rules of the INS and of the approved national testing organizations. Nonetheless, their schemes managed to thoroughly corrupt the citizenship testing process. Approximately 13,000 aliens were processed through the testing sites included in the indictments. Most of these individuals received certificates indicating they had successfully fulfilled the required proficiency in the English language and civics test portion of the naturalization process. Our investigation established that many of these individuals did not in fact possess the required English language/civics proficiency. We also determined that some of the individuals who improperly received their certification ultimately received U.S. citizenship. We checked a sample of the names of 200 people who received testing certificates through one site following a test that surveillance revealed never occurred. INS automated records revealed that 64 received U.S. naturalization certificates. We will be working with INS on trying to further establish and verify the identities of citizenship applicants who were the beneficiaries of these fraudulent schemes.
We did not conduct a systemic evaluation of the testing program. The information that we have on the citizenship testing process is the product of a detailed and in-depth criminal investigation, but not the result of a systematic audit or program evaluation of the entire program. Therefore, our information is anecdotal and impressionistic, although no less valuable for the insights it yields. The problems with the testing program were of various kinds. Because of their geographical distance from the testing sites and their lack of monitoring resources, the national testing organizations had difficulty effectively supervising the subcontractors who they had authorized to administer the tests. This meant that the checks on the subcontractors, to the extent that checks existed, were easily circumvented. For example, the random spot checks of test sites could not spot the fraud that took place after the test had been administered and before the tests were submitted to the national testing organizations. This gave the subcontractors and their agents a virtual license to defraud both the government and the citizenship applicants who were hungry to gain the benefits of citizenship. The defendants who were indicted and arrested in late January are alleged to have exploited this flawed system by charging exorbitant fees to their client-applicants and guaranteeing a successful result.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that these are isolated cases. The OIG and INS have investigated other similar allegations and will continue to do so as allegations arise. My office and the Department of Justice generally are committed to aggressively investigating and prosecuting those people who subvert and corrupt any part of the citizenship application and testing process.
We understand that INS has decided to terminate the citizenship testing program as of August 1998. We believe this is a sound decision. Whatever the good intentions that lay behind launching the program, in practice it turned out to be riddled with opportunities for fraud that were exploited by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. Until the citizenship testing program is terminated, my office will continue to investigate vigorously allegations of fraud that may arise in this program.
I will be happy to answer any questions that you may have.