A report released by the Inspector General for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) last week reveals that a government database that tracks immigration status erroneously confirms one in eight of all aliens run through it as eligible for public benefits and work in sensitive areas despite those aliens having deportation orders lodged against them. (See OIG -13-11, Dec. 2012; see also Washington Times, Dec. 18, 2012)
Federal, state, and local benefit-issuing agencies and licensing bureaus depend on the federal government database — known as the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program — to determine the immigration status of applicants to ensure only those applicants with lawful immigration status are approved.
However, according to the report, only 88 percent of the individuals given a positive response by the SAVE program actually possessed lawful immigration status at the time their names were run through the program. (See OIG -13-11 at p. 1) In fact, the remaining 12 percent had been approved as having lawful status despite having been ordered deported from the country. (Id.)
According to the report, the reason SAVE erroneously identifies deported aliens as having lawful status is that USCIS databases used by the SAVE program are generally not updated at the time an alien is ordered deported. (Id. at 4) Rather, the databases are updated at the time an alien actually leaves the country. (Id.) USCIS officials claimed the reason for this discrepancy is that upon being ordered deported, an alien has the right to appeal such order, and thus it waits to update the status until an alien actually leaves. (Id.)
As such, aliens who have been ordered deported but refuse to leave are allowed to remain in the country and collect public benefits or gain access to jobs that otherwise would be prohibited to them. For instance, the report details an account of one green card holder who despite being ordered deported in 2000 for committing multiple crimes, was approved through SAVE as eligible for a Transportation Security Administration worker identification card, allowing the alien access to secure areas in transportation facilities. (Id. at 6) Another example laid out in the report is of an alien who was ordered deported due to a conviction for homicide/negligent manslaughter. Upon his release from incarceration, the alien applied for student aid in the District of Columbia. Erroneously, SAVE identified the alien as a lawful permanent resident eligible for the public assistance. (Id. at 5-6)
In response to the Inspector General report, USCIS says it plans to work with other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security to identify whether a final order of removal has been issued to an alien, and that it will initiate a review of other potential data sources for such information. (Id. at 7) “USClS will work with ICE to map a way forward to ensure that more timely information is shared,” USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas told the Washington Times. (Washington Times, Dec. 18, 2012)