Family reunification fraud: An unaddressed problem in the US immigration system

Family reunification is a cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, but it has a dark and disturbing side. In the context of processing overseas refugees who are trying to enter the U.S., it takes the form of the Priority Three or P-3 family reunification program.

A shockwave rippled through the overseas P-3 program in 2008 when pilot DNA testing revealed massive, almost universal, 100 percent fraud in claims of familial relationships. It was the greatest refugee fraud crisis in immigration history, and understandably led to the suspension of the overseas reunification program. It only restarted four years later, in 2012, with a permanent DNA screening requirement.

Left unresolved, however, was the issue of thousands of fraudulent refugees who surged into the United States for 20 years while the P-3 program was active without safeguards. But at least the barn door was now closed. Or was it?
DNA testing had fixed the problem for overseas refugee processing. Most people would assume that the federal agency administering the domestic immigration system — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — would follow suit and use the same safeguard. That didn’t happen.

Instead, the flaws of the failed overseas program were replicated and allowed to persist inside the U.S. USCIS allowed mass fraud to march through the domestic P-3 system unimpeded by DNA screening requirements, without in-person interviews for many benefits, and without administrative fraud checks for older cases. USCIS should have tightened these loopholes. The result: yesterday’s fraudulent refugees became today’s green card holders and U.S. citizens in disquietingly large numbers.

And bear in mind that there can be other serious consequences to this, particularly in the failure to identify human trafficking victims in the U.S.

Mass fraud brutally remade the composition of the domestic P-3 system, but there was no reshaping of USCIS defenses to counter the threat. And thus, even though the overseas P-3 program was fixed, the aimless domestic P-3 system is still looking for direction in 2018.

Fraud continues to run circles around the ability of USCIS to maintain integrity and vigilance in the domestic system.
Level-headed policymaking must finally take place in 2018. There is too much at stake — our nation’s security, mass refugee fraud, and human trafficking victims — to do otherwise.

(Author Charles Fillinger is a retired employee of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He was posted at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya for six years, where he helped manage an extensive refugee portfolio. He is the author of a recent policy paper on the deepening reach of P-3 refugee fraud in the United States. His views do not reflect the opinions of any government agency.)

(Mass fraud brutally remade the composition of the domestic P-3 system, but there was no reshaping of USCIS defenses to counter the threat. Photo: Ramon Espinosa-AP)

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