That plan for “extreme vetting” may turn out to be extremely problematic, but don’t blame it on Donald Trump. The US Citizenship and Immigration Service began working on a program in 2006 designed to bring the vetting of immigrants into the digital era. Unfortunately, as this new report from NextGov shows, it ran into problems almost immediately and even after implementation began it wound up being fraught with glitches and running “extremely” over budget.
Shutdowns, delays and budget overruns in the information technology system the government’s immigration service uses could allow terrorists or criminals to mistakenly receive citizenship or green cards, lawmakers fretted Thursday.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’ tech troubles date back to 2006 when the agency began a massive program to create an Electronic Immigration System, or ELIS.
That project, spearheaded by IBM, had stumbled miserably by 2012 when USCIS cut the project up into shorter time frames with smaller deliverables. Since then, the project has continued to suffer bugs and delays, the agency and its auditors testified before a House Homeland Security Committee panel.
Forget about inefficiency and cost overruns. This next bit is the part that really caught everyone’s attention. We’ve been handing out green cards and citizenship papers to people who were supposed to have been loaded on a bus headed for the border. And we’re not just talking about a few here. (Emphasis added)
Because of system bugs, shifts between manual and digital processing and other issues, USCIS erroneously issued about 20,000 green cards and granted citizenship to more than 800 people who had previously been ordered deported during the past six months, an auditor found.
This project is years behind schedule, and while we’re used seeing Uncle Sam frittering away large amounts of the taxpayer’s money, being $1 billion in the hole is nothing to sneeze at. But that’s really not the alarming part here. It’s one thing to be concerned over whether or not tough immigration policies are depriving qualified applicants of good intent a chance to become citizens. It’s quite another to find out that the system is failing in the opposite direction and that nearly a thousand people who had previously been scheduled for deportation were mistakenly granted citizenship with another 20,000 getting green cards. And that was just in a six month period. How many have we done this for in total since 2012?
I have no problem with a computer system designed to gather and catalog information which can be used in the vetting process, but there’s clearly a limit to precisely how much “automation” can go on here. The system needs to be a tool which enhances the work being done by human agents, not a method of replacing them. I’m not saying that’s what’s going on here, as there are certainly still people involved in the process, but if they are coming to rely too heavily on this computer system to the point where a digital thumbs-up causes them to close the case then we have a problem. This is particularly true if it’s repeatedly missing people who were already in the legal system and on record as having been captured and scheduled for deportation. I don’t expect a computer to find out what they were previously up to in their home country, but these are illegal immigrant who we already caught once. If we can’t keep track of them then this simply isn’t working.
We may already be in the hole for a serious amount of money on this, but it’s time to go back to the drawing board. This work is far too important to be cutting corners.