Blog: Digitization Facilitates Citizenship and Immigration Tracking

February 26, 2009
By Henry Kenyon

While AFCEA's Homeland Security conference's first panel focused on issues related to illegal immigrants and customs and border protection, members of Wednesday afternoon's discussion forum explained how uncovering immigration status violations currently is achieved using existing systems.

Gregory Smith, associate director, National Security and Record Verification (NSRV) directorate, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (US CIS), emphasized that records digitization is the first step in a process that can lead to a more secure nation. Digitization facilitates information- and record-sharing and is a tool for analytical activities, he explained. To date, US CIS has digitized more than 750,000 files.

Smith explained that the break up of the Immigration and Naturalization Service left his directorate without support for investigations, fugitive recovery and removal activities, and inspections. To fill this void, the Federal Detection and National Security Division was created in 2004. "We had to beef up the 'front door' of immigrants coming into the country. The first step was to look at the immigration benefits and fraud as well as identify vulnerabilities in the system," he stated.

Through the Benefit Fraud Risk Assessment, Smith's organization determined that there was a 33 percent fraud rate in religious worker forms; a 1 percent fraud rate in replacement green cards; an 11 percent fraud rate in E31 and EW3 employment-based forms; and a 21.7 percent fraud rate in H1B employment-based forms. This process was work-intensive, so the directorate focused its approach, asking adjudicators for their input about the most likely areas of fraud. By making a few adjustments to the process, response rates to the assessments have increased significantly, providing a clearer picture, Smith explained.

Gerri Ratliff, deputy associate director, NSRV, explained more about the automated immigration status verification system that is now used by more than 300 agencies. E-Verify has reduced unauthorized employment numbers, minimized verification-related discrimination, eased the burden on employers and improved protection of civil liberties and employees' privacy, Ratliff said. "Currently, 96.1 percent of workers are authorized either instantly or within 24 hours through E-Verify," she stated.

Ratliff pointed out that a federal mandate is likely on its way that will require companies with federal contracts to use E-Verify to validate the legal status of employees who work on government projects. Knowing that this is on the horizon, she encouraged companies to begin using the system now, before the rush begins. She stated the system is ready to handle the influx, but added, "The people who are waiting for immigration reform to start using E-Verify are losing their advantage by getting it done early."

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