In the wake of Faisal Shahzad's arrest in the attempted Times Square car bombing, there is renewed interest in the integrity of the immigration and naturalization process. This includes U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman proposed legislation allowing terror suspects to be stripped of their U.S. citizenship. Lieberman's proposal essentially enhances an existing, but virtually unused, federal statute under Title 8, Section 1481 of the U.S. Code. While there are plenty of cases of revoking someone's citizenship, most of them follow convictions for other crimes.
The law, however, provides for a civil court revocation process without a criminal conviction if the evidence shows the naturalization was illegally or fraudulently procured. What Lieberman and his supporters want to do is enhance that to revoke the citizenship of those who are shown to be involved in terrorism..
There are other Shahzads out there, and we don't want them staying here after it's clear they tried to do us harm. While Lieberman's proposal may be contentious, the existing naturalization system long has suffered for a lack of viable quality control.
Naturalization cases are processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), an agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CIS took over that function from the now defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 2003. But its policies and procedures have evolved little from the mismanaged days of the INS. A number of watchdog studies, to include those conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), indicate quality control suffers in favor of backlog reduction at CIS. That allows people like Shahzad to slip through the cracks.
One possible solution may be to look to the past. Since the 1980s, the naturalization system has essentially been a paper chase. Applicants submit required forms and supporting documents, are fingerprinted and checked for criminal histories. All of that is reviewed by naturalization examiners, who also conduct an interview with the would-be citizen.
Those examiners are civilians trained specifically for their duties (though that training has not always been appropriate). The number of cases, however, is overwhelming and backlog reduction has been a mainstay problem for the agency for many years. CIS has national security and fraud detection units, but they are sorely understaffed, have a focus on identifying macro trends vs. individual cases, and their cadre are not primarily Special Agents (Criminal Investigators) who can independently launch, pursue and complete investigations.
Until the mid 1980s, the naturalization system worked comparatively well with a fraction of the 20,000 employees the INS had when it was merged into DHS in 2003. Naturalization examiners were attorneys who were skilled interviewers and experts in immigration and nationality law. Naturalization applicants were required to bring two witnesses with them to their interviews to attest, under oath, to the applicant's good moral character. If the examiners had any suspicions about the applicant or their support witnesses, they referred the matter to the Investigations Division for inquiry. The issue of acquiring US citizenship was considered a very serious matter.
Sometimes investigations triggered by those suspicions discovered that an applicant abused their spouse or kids, habitually used drugs, had a criminal record they didn't report that didn't show up on the checks, was married to someone else and didn't claim it or was a member of a terrorist or subversive group in their home country.
Those cases resulted in denials and sometimes in larger investigations, prosecution and deportation. That changed in the mid-1980s when the agency sought to streamline the system and make it faster. The field background investigation process was essentially shelved in favor of shuffling paper and conducting record checks from a desk.
Surely the workload has increased substantially over the years, but so have resources. Perhaps even more resources are necessary, and Congress and the Administration should look at that. But, how much of this is reflective of management, or more properly mismanagement? Study after study and audit after audit always seem to say the same thing in this regard - that our immigration agencies are sorely mismanaged at the senior levels. Who is listening? You can bet al-Qaeda, the Taliban and many others are.