Wednesday, June 14,2006
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. immigration system is so broken that itcan't be fixed, a former top security official at the Department ofHomeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) toldNewsMax in an exclusive interview.
"Internal corruption at CIS is so pervasive that hostileforeign governments have penetrated the agency," said Michael J.Maxwell, who was forced to resign as chief of the CIS Office ofSecurity and Investigation earlier this year.
"Terrorists and organized crime are gaming the immigration systemwith impunity. Taken together, these three elements form the perfectstorm," Maxwell said.
"You can't separate immigration from national security, and that'swhat keeps me up at night," he added.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun to take Maxwell'swarnings seriously. A just-released report from the DHS Office ofInspector General revealed that 45,008 aliens from countries on theU.S. list of state-sponsors of terror (SST) or from countries thatprotected terrorist organizations and their members were releasedinto the general public between 2001 and 2005, even thoughimmigration officers couldn't confirm their identities.
Even worse, the report states: "it is not known exactly howmany of these . . . aliens were ultimately issued final orders ofremoval and actually removed, since such data is not tracked" by theDetention and Removal Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement(ICE).
The report estimated that 85 percent of those released aliens"will abscond," even if deportation orders are issued.
The report was released to the public on May 19, but has attracted noattention until now.
"It's rather frightening," Maxwell said. He says he "threw up ared flag" last year about the inability of immigration officers toperform background checks on aliens from terrorist-list countries,but nothing has changed.
"Even if the adjudicators get a terrorist hit, the regulations saythey must refer the case to the FBI," Maxwell said. "It doesn't say,deny them an immigration benefit. It just says, refer. That's verydangerous, because once they get the immigration benefit it becomesvery hard to investigate them."
If the FBI fails for whatever reason to send over the case file onthe individual who has been flagged, "then statutorily, the caseofficer must grant the benefit, even if there's a warning the personis a terrorist," Maxwell told NewsMax.
That means that individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, SaudiArabia, and Yemen, whose identities could not be verified and whocould be working for terrorist groups, have been granted green cardsor even citizenship, Maxwell added.
"The release of these OTMs [other than Mexicans] posesparticular risks," the Inspector General report said. The reportcited a recent U.S. intelligence assessment indicating that"terrorist organizations . . . believe illegal entry into the U.S. ismore advantageous than legal entry for operations reasons."
Since 2001, the number of "OTMs" arrested for illegallyentering this country has jumped by 27 percent to more than 145,000per year.
From 2001 through the first half of 2005, 605,210 "OTM" alienswere arrested for violating U.S. immigration laws. But a lack of bedsat detention facilities and other factors compelled the government torelease 51 percent of them into the general population, whileawaiting an immigration hearing on their final status.
"It is not clear the extent to which decisions to release OTMsare being made on a risk-based versus resource-based manner," theInspector General report stated. "Even if risk is considered, thehigh release rate could undermine the public's confidence in thedepartment's ability to secure our northern and southernborders."
The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) wassplit in two when Congress created the Department of HomelandSecurity in 2002. Immigrant services were given to CIS, whileenforcement was handed over to ICE.
More than 7 million immigration-related "benefit" claims areadjudicated every year, which Maxwell and other critics say have ledimmigration officers to "rubber-stamp" green card and citizenshipapplications. Many CIS service centers have policies that rewardimmigration officers who adjudicate the highest number of cases perday, giving them additional paid leave and other benefits.
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, says that he recently confirmedwith FBI Director Robert Mueller that "a number of individuals fromcountries with al-Qaida connections are changing their identities.They're changing their Islamic surnames for Hispanic surnames,adopting false Hispanic identities . . . and hiding among the floodof illegals coming over our border and disappearing into thecountry."
Maxwell said it was impossible to know with any certainty howmany terrorists had entered the United States illegally. But USCIShas documented an immigration route through the Virgin Islands andPuerto Rico that could be exploited by foreign intelligence servicesand terrorists, with the complicity of U.S. immigration officers.
"The smugglers know that only one flight per day is inspected,"Maxwell said, "so they put these folks on other flights," Maxwellsaid. An internal CIS investigation into the operations of the SanJuan immigration district, obtained by NewsMax, describes the VirginIslands-Puerto Rico immigration pipeline in great detail.
The report noted that smugglers were using the islands of St.Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John for "staging landings" of illegalimmigrants, and that "smuggling ventures within the Caribbean meetwith little to no resistance."
Maxwell said that corrupt U.S. immigration officials helpedsmugglers obtain false identity documents, so the illegals could "hitthe beach with dry clothes and immigration documents waiting for themon the beach."
"That means there is someone dirty on the inside," he added.While the internal CIS report did not investigate potentially corruptU.S. officials, it confirmed Maxwell's description of the VirginIslands clandestine immigration pipeline.
"Once the aliens obtain documents," the Feb. 1, 2006 reportstated, "they fly to San Juan and on to the [U.S.] mainland.With only a few flights in San Juan targeted for pre-flightinspection by CBP [Customs and Border Protection], an alienreaching San Juan is virtually assured of safe transport to themainland United States."
In forwarding this report by e-mail to CIS Director Emilio T.Gonzales on Feb. 2, 2006, the deputy CIS director, Robert Divine,said the report "will be as captivating reading for the weekend asany novel you have brought up from Miami or picked up sincethen."
In sworn testimony before House International Relationssubcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation on April6, 2006, Maxwell said that his office had received complaints of"USCIS employees providing material support to known terrorists orbeing influenced by foreign intelligence services."
One USCIS employee, "co-opted by a foreign intelligenceentity," had "the ability to grant the immigration of their choosingto the person or persons of their choosing," Maxwell said in hissworn testimony.
In an unclassified meeting with senior USCIS leadership inFebruary 2006, which he attended, Maxwell says that agency DirectorEmilio Gonzales "mentioned two foreign intelligence operatives whowork on behalf of USCIS at an interest section abroad and who areassisting aliens into the United States as we speak."
In introducing Maxwell to a congressional hearing in April, Rep. EdRoyce, R-Calif., said that USCIS was "riddled with fraud andcorruption."
A big part of the problem, Royce added, was that "thosedeciding applications are under enormous pressure to reduce thebacklog," and are told to "move the applications as fast as youcan."
The subcommittee co-chair, Rep. Brad Sherman, D, Calif., said thatMaxwell's information should be taken into account as Congress weighsa major new immigration law.
"We need to make sure that any change that we make in our immigrationlaw does not overwhelm USCIS," Sherman said.
"It's not enough to adopt good policy, and that will be contentioushere in Congress. It has to be a policy that the agency is capable ofadministering."
The information Michael Maxwell had provided the committee shows that"the agency has great difficulty administering even the present law,"Sherman said.