CitizenshipCases processed without background checks : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

07/31/00- Updated 05:51 PM ET

Cases processed without background checks WASHINGTON (AP)  A crash program to reduce the backlog of citizenship applications ''compromised the integrity'' of the process and gave citizenship to tens of thousands of people without adequate background checks, the Justice Department said Monday.

But the review by the department's inspector general found no evidence that the 1995-1996 program, part of Vice President Gore's government reinvention effort, was designed to influence the 1996 presidential election.

About 1.2 million people were given citizenship between October, 1995 and September 1996 under the program which eliminated a massive backlog of citizenship cases at the Immigration and Naturalization Service. At the time the waiting period for citizenship was as much as three years.

Critics complained that the rush program was aimed at producing hundreds of thousands of new voters in time for the 1996 presidential election - a move that would have helped President Clinton's re-election bid because a vast majority of the new citizens probably would vote Democratic.

But the 684-page inspector general's report, released by the Justice Department on Monday, said the investigation found no evidence that the program, ''Citizenship USA,'' ''was developed or implemented to further inappropriate political ends.''

Neither the White House nor Gore's National Performance Review - Gore's government reinvention office - intervened to lower standards or change procedures to get applicants naturalized in time to vote, the IG report said.

But the investigation found that at least one official at the National Performance Review office ''believed that the (citizenship) program had a deadline that was directly connected to the upcoming election,'' according to the IG report.

The official, Douglas Farbrother, in March, 1996 raised his concerns with Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick and senior INS officials that the program was lagging behind schedule to the point where Gorelick threw him out of his office, according to the IG investigators.

Farbrother told investigators that he understood that citizenship applicants had to be naturalized in time to register to vote in the November, 1996 election. and that ''this was one motive for the NPR's involvement'' in the Citizenship USA program, according to the IG report.

But the IG report concluded that while some may have hoped for political benefit, ''we did not find evidence that officials of INS or the (Justice) Department adopted this as a goal'' for the citizenship program at INS

Still, the IG investigators found that the crash program - which intensified even more after the March meeting in Gorelick's office - put quantity over quality and ''compromised the naturalization process.''

The investigation, involving 1,800 interviews and review of 80,000 pages of documents, confirmed media reports at the time that INS had processed applicants so quickly that in many cases citizenship was granted before the INS received criminal background checks from the FBI.

Investigators found at least 1,300 such cases in Chicago, 2,500 in Los Angeles and nearly 1,000 in Miami. There probably were tens of thousands of cases where applications were approved without complete background checks, according to the investigators. But the report said there was no way to determine how many unqualified individuals might have gained citizenship.

''INS made the timely completion of naturalization cases, or production, the guiding principle and single-mindedly pursued this principle at the expense of accuracy in the determination of eligibility for citizenship,'' said Acting Inspector General Robert L. Ashbaugh.

The largest backlog cases were in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Miami and Chicago.

INS dramatically increased its work force in those cities, but in many cases new workers were superficially trained and had little supervision, the report said. In the Garden City, N.Y., office 100 new-hire application reviewer had only six experienced employees to give them guidance.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 31, 2000

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