More Document Fraud: Nearly One Million U.S.-VISIT Visas Have Fingerprint, Name Mismatches

Published on September 6th, 2012

During the first year of my long career as an English as a Second Language teacher, one of my administrative challenges was taking roll and keeping an accurate tally of who attended and on which dates. Since the classes were large, I’d leave a sign-in sheet on my desk. The students would sign and go to their seats. But I soon realized that the same person used different names on different days. Their names didn’t always match their registration forms. When I inquired, the students would explain that sometimes they used their married names but on other occasions their mother’s or maiden names. For the most part, these were innocent inconsistencies.

Because of my experiences, the recent Department of Homeland Security report that 825,000 immigrants’ fingerprint sets are associated with multiple individuals and birthdates, many trying to fake their identities, didn’t exactly surprise me. I confess though that I found the nearly one million totals staggering.  Auditors examined U.S.- VISIT visa records from 1998 through 2011.

Frank Deffer, a DHS assistant inspector general, confirmed that some of the database fingerprints matched individuals who have extensive criminal records. But Deffer quickly added that the database holds hundreds of millions of fingerprint records; the irregularities represent only 0.2 percent of individuals logged.

In his press release, Deffer wrote:

“Although this is a very small percentage of the total records, the volume of records makes it significant. In some cases, we found that individuals used different biographic identities at a port of entry after they had applied for a visa under a different name, or been identified as a recidivist alien.

“In one example, the same set of fingerprints was associated with nine different names and nine different birthdates in 10 different attempts to enter the United States.”

By “significant” Deffer means “alarming.”  For example, nearly 400,000 records for women had different last names for the same first name. Another woman, a repeat criminal offender, identified in 2008 by authorities, produced different biographic data to enter the country three times after leaving — once in 2009 and twice in 2011.

Risks to national security or public safety are heightened because US-VISIT cannot account with any degree of certainty inconsistencies that may occur in its records because of fraud. Accordingly, DHS National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) Undersecretary Rand Beers recommended that DHS review data irregularities and refer possible fraud to law enforcement authorities.

The initial feedback from the review is encouraging. Said Beers:

“US-VISIT has initiated a proactive review of processes to identify potential fraud used by individuals attempting to enter the United States or obtain immigration benefits."

To date, US VISIT has analyzed 1,200 records and identified 192 suspicious individuals. But the DHS report made no mention of inadequate oversight during the visa application process where supervisors have instructed subordinates to process as many applications as possible, without regard to the required ID and background checks.

Read the DHS report, “US-VISIT Faces Challenges in Identifying and Reporting Multiple Biographic Identities” here. And a pre-9/11 New York Times story, Zipping through Customs, provides interesting background information. [Zipping through Customs, by Betsy Wade, New York Times, March 2, 1997]

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