Congress Assails INS 'Bungles'

Congress Assails INS 'Bungles'

Both houses of Congress are pledging swift action to address a new report's findings that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has not fixed problems that allowed thousands of immigrants to become citizens without criminal background checks.

The study, commissioned by the Justice Department and released Friday, found 23 of 24 INS field offices are not complying with the agency's Naturalization Quality Procedures implemented in November to streamline the naturalization process. The report found the most serious problems were with a fingerprint verification system used to identify aliens with criminal records.

According to the report, there were "no standards set, no curriculum established and no policies established" for training INS personnel in the new system. The system was implemented after a previous audit found the INS naturalized 71,500 applicants who had criminal records and failed to complete criminal background checks on another 180,000 immigrants who were naturalized.

House Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, in a release dated Friday, assailed the INS for failing to implement its own policy. He vowed to "work out a plan to assure Americans that integrity is restored to the process immediately."

A spokesman today said Smith will hold hearings on the matter beginning next week and will introduce legislation requiring criminal background checks be completed before citizenship is granted.

"Up to now this has been a regulatory directive, but obviously [INS] has bungled it ... A congressional directive carries more weight than agency policy," the aide said.

Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Abraham, R-Mich., last week announced he would hold hearings on the issue, saying the new report "raises serious questions about INS management of the naturalization process." An aide today said hearings in Abraham's subcommittee also are likely to begin next week, but was not sure whether Abraham will address the problem through narrow legislation or broader INS reform.

Meanwhile, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner called the report findings "extremely troubling" and announced "immediate steps" to ensure the NQP process is followed.

Meissner, who was briefed on the report more than a week ago, said naturalization applicant worksheets will be reviewed by supervisors to assure the process has been completed.

Meissner also said she would seek congressional approval of a plan to "fundamentally restructure" the INS to reinforce field operations, improve headquarters-field communications and strengthen management.