WASHINGTON – The FBI’s system for performing background checks on immigrants has become so overloaded since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that thousands of legal immigrants are waiting years to get into the United States or obtain citizenship, according to findings from an internal investigation released Monday.
The U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that the FBI’s National Name Check Program is working with outdated technology, and that poorly trained personnel and overworked supervisors are falling far behind. As of March, there was a backlog of 327,000 requests for names to be validated, some of which have been pending for as long as three years.
The report also said the breakdown in the name checks means that potentially thousands of criminals are slipping through the system.
“The name-check process can result in lengthy delays and the risk of inaccurate information,” Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said. He warned that improvements to the system, particularly with the government’s ongoing effort to search for potential terrorists in this country, should be “a priority.”
The FBI must vet and approve all immigrants before they can get citizenship or a green card. The bureau has been criticized by lawmakers and immigration rights groups for slowing the immigration process.
John Miller, the FBI’s head of public affairs, said the inspector general’s recommendations are being implemented, and that FBI officials will work hard to catch up.
He noted that more than 4 million name-check requests from law enforcement agencies were made in the 2007 fiscal year alone, and that the staff was able to process about 86 percent of them within 60 days. Put another way, he said, the FBI is making 77,000 name checks a week – or completing nearly 97 percent of all requests submitted in the past five years.
Nevertheless, Miller acknowledged that the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes jammed the system, especially when federal immigration officials asked the bureau to re-run 2.7 million names for more thorough reviews following the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.
“This unexpected deluge of immigration-related checks overwhelmed existing resources,” Miller said. “As a result, the NNCP was not able to address the increasing demand.”