INS complied with our recommendation to institute flagging procedures by flagging the records provided by the OIG as a result of our 1996 inspection. However, the flagging procedures are incomplete.
As a result of the 1996 inspection, the OIG provided INS with identifiers (i.e., alien numbers, names, and dates of birth) for over 4,700 aliens implicated in nine OIG investigations involving fraudulently obtained immigration benefits. INS developed standard instructions, or boilerplates, to be included in each alien's NAILS record. The boilerplates instruct the system user on how to proceed with the alien (e.g., who to contact and what information is needed of the alien). There are 17 unique sets of instructions, or boilerplates, all of which are identical except for the first two paragraphs. Those paragraphs reflect the specific case name or number, the type of illegal activity that occurred, and the type of immigration benefit illicitly obtained. A sample of the boilerplate language is in Appendix I.
INS also developed procedures to delineate the circumstances under which flags are entered into NAILS. The interface between CIS and NAILS is used to update the CIS record with a flag that appears as "NAILS-X" under the heading "Other Information" in the CIS record. This flag in the CIS record alerts system users that there is additional information in NAILS. Once in the NAILS record, the system user is required to follow the instructions in the boilerplate.
When we checked CIS for the "NAILS-X" flag, we found that of the 355 records in our sample, 333 (93.8 percent) contained the flag. The remaining 22 (6.2 percent) records did not have the "NAILS-X" flag. We then sought to determine whether these 22 records were ever flagged and whether INS followed its procedures in removing the flags. According to INS procedures, as dictated in the NAILS boilerplate language, every encounter between inspectors and individuals whose records have been flagged results in inspectors forwarding memoranda to Field Operations Enforcement. After reviewing the memoranda, Field Operations Enforcement then makes a decision whether or not to remove the flags. We discovered that both the flagging procedures and the boilerplate language are incomplete because neither includes steps adjudicators must follow to remove the flags.
In our review of Field Operation Enforcement's records for the 22 records that did not contain the flag, we located 10 of the 22 memoranda. We then contacted the Lookout Unit because it may also direct removal of flags based on communication from the field. Lookout Unit personnel stated that their documentation is filed solely by the date flags are removed. Documentation regarding the 12 records for which we were searching is commingled with that of all deletions from NAILS. As we did not know when the records were removed, INS informed us that they would have to search through every NAILS record deletion since 1997 (approximately 30,000 pieces of paper), when the flags were entered, to locate these 12 deleted NAILS flags. As an alternative to this search, to determine whether these records were ever flagged, we contacted INS's Office of Records (Records) to request an audit. Records provided us with adequate documentation to prove that each of these 12 records had been flagged and that the flags had been subsequently removed. Therefore, we conclude that INS flagged all records given them as a result of our original inspection.
As mentioned earlier, 333 records in our sample had flags but 9 did not contain any information in their corresponding NAILS records. When we viewed the NAILS records in these nine instances, we found that there was no information at all to guide system users (i.e., no boilerplate language was included and no direction was provided as to whom to contact regarding the NAILS records). Therefore, projected to the entire universe of cases, more than 120 CIS records with "NAILS-X" flags may not be accompanied by directions (boilerplates) in NAILS that guide inspectors and adjudicators on how to proceed with the individuals.
INS has failed to remove NAILS records of individuals who have received additional INS benefits.
Of the 333 records that have "NAILS-X" flags in CIS, 36 (10.8 percent) indicate the aliens have received benefits since the records were flagged. However, the NAILS records and corresponding flags in CIS were never removed.
When INS personnel encounter individuals whose records have been flagged, they are required to conduct inquiries into the allegations. If the allegations of wrongdoing cannot be substantiated, the NAILS records and flags should be removed. Likewise, if substantial evidence exists that an alien has committed an offense, then the information and instructions in the boilerplate are no longer applicable and the NAILS record and flag should be removed.7
According to INS policy, "Flagging of Fraudulent Records in INS Automated Systems," CIS must be checked for all applications and petitions before any INS benefit is granted or any INS action is taken. If a NAILS flag is found for the applicant or petitioner in CIS, there are procedures that must be followed at the field level. If adjudicators are not checking CIS, there is no mechanism to ensure an inquiry is conducted. If the original benefit for which the record was flagged was obtained illicitly, the alien is not only retaining the ill-gotten benefits but is also receiving additional benefits.
Alternatively, when adjudicators query CIS during the benefit process and follow up on the NAILS flags, yet do not follow procedures to eliminate the NAILS record when allegations of wrongdoing cannot be substantiated, the aliens and INS may face additional obstacles. For example, if an individual whose record has been flagged has subsequently become a U.S. citizen and attempts to enter through a U.S. port of entry, the individual's name will come up on TECS during primary inspection. The individual then will be sent to secondary inspection for questioning and document examination. An INS official stated that the INS must be very careful when placing U.S. citizens in secondary inspection as it is tantamount to a custodial situation. This INS official and others have voiced concern regarding possible legal ramifications for holding U.S. citizens and others in secondary without clear probable cause.
INS has not made adequate efforts to obtain additional information on aliens associated with fraudulent document cases.
INS officials with whom we spoke contend they do not receive adequate information for INS personnel to effectively investigate aliens implicated in OIG cases. However, INS officials admitted that they have not communicated to the OIG what specific information they need to investigate such cases.8 The current OIG policy requires that it provide INS with a list of names, corresponding A-numbers, and the benefits obtained illicitly. INS officials indicated to us that they need the details of why these aliens were implicated in schemes where immigration documents and benefits were fraudulently obtained. The details might include information on the corrupt INS employee, the nature of the relationship between the corrupt INS employee and the alien, the middlemen involved, and many other details. INS officials contend that the information that OIG provides under the current policy is not adequate to effectively investigate an alien's involvement in a fraud scheme.
As long as INS does not take the initiative to obtain more information from OIG investigators, aliens can continue to make use of their illicitly obtained benefits. Furthermore, the aliens could acquire additional benefits on the basis of the illicitly obtained document or immigration status. INS needs to provide guidance to the OIG as to the type of information it requires to effectively investigate cases where aliens are suspected of obtaining immigration documents fraudulently. In addition, after being provided with identifying information of aliens involved in specific cases, if additional information is needed to effectively investigate, INS must take the additional measures it deems appropriate to acquire that information prior to flagging the records.