Wednesday, June 14,
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. immigration system is so broken that it can't be fixed, a former top security official at the Department of Homeland Security's Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) told NewsMax in an exclusive interview.
"Internal corruption at CIS is so pervasive that hostile foreign governments have penetrated the agency," said Michael J. Maxwell, who was forced to resign as chief of the CIS Office of Security and Investigation earlier this year.
"Terrorists and organized crime are gaming the immigration system with impunity. Taken together, these three elements form the perfect storm," Maxwell said.
"You can't separate immigration from national security, and that's what keeps me up at night," he added.
The Department of Homeland Security has begun to take Maxwell's warnings seriously. A just-released report from the DHS Office of Inspector General revealed that 45,008 aliens from countries on the U.S. list of state-sponsors of terror (SST) or from countries that protected terrorist organizations and their members were released into the general public between 2001 and 2005, even though immigration officers couldn't confirm their identities.
Even worse, the report states: "it is not known exactly how many of these . . . aliens were ultimately issued final orders of removal and actually removed, since such data is not tracked" by the Detention 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 no attention until now.
"It's rather frightening," Maxwell said. He says he "threw up a red flag" last year about the inability of immigration officers to perform background checks on aliens from terrorist-list countries, but nothing has changed.
"Even if the adjudicators get a terrorist hit, the regulations say they must refer the case to the FBI," Maxwell said. "It doesn't say, deny them an immigration benefit. It just says, refer. That's very dangerous, because once they get the immigration benefit it becomes very hard to investigate them."
If the FBI fails for whatever reason to send over the case file on the individual who has been flagged, "then statutorily, the case officer must grant the benefit, even if there's a warning the person is a terrorist," Maxwell told NewsMax.
That means that individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, whose identities could not be verified and who could be working for terrorist groups, have been granted green cards or even citizenship, Maxwell added.
"The release of these OTMs [other than Mexicans] poses particular risks," the Inspector General report said. The report cited a recent U.S. intelligence assessment indicating that "terrorist organizations . . . believe illegal entry into the U.S. is more advantageous than legal entry for operations reasons."
Since 2001, the number of "OTMs" arrested for illegally entering this country has jumped by 27 percent to more than 145,000 per year.
From 2001 through the first half of 2005, 605,210 "OTM" aliens were arrested for violating U.S. immigration laws. But a lack of beds at detention facilities and other factors compelled the government to release 51 percent of them into the general population, while awaiting an immigration hearing on their final status.
"It is not clear the extent to which decisions to release OTMs are being made on a risk-based versus resource-based manner," the Inspector General report stated. "Even if risk is considered, the high release rate could undermine the public's confidence in the department's ability to secure our northern and southern borders."
The former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was split in two when Congress created the Department of Homeland Security in 2002. Immigrant services were given to CIS, while enforcement was handed over to ICE.
More than 7 million immigration-related "benefit" claims are adjudicated every year, which Maxwell and other critics say have led immigration officers to "rubber-stamp" green card and citizenship applications. Many CIS service centers have policies that reward immigration officers who adjudicate the highest number of cases per day, giving them additional paid leave and other benefits.
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, says that he recently confirmed with FBI Director Robert Mueller that "a number of individuals from countries 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 flood of illegals coming over our border and disappearing into the country."
Maxwell said it was impossible to know with any certainty how many terrorists had entered the United States illegally. But USCIS has documented an immigration route through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico that could be exploited by foreign intelligence services and 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," Maxwell said. An internal CIS investigation into the operations of the San Juan immigration district, obtained by NewsMax, describes the Virgin Islands-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 illegal immigrants, and that "smuggling ventures within the Caribbean meet with little to no resistance."
Maxwell said that corrupt U.S. immigration officials helped smugglers obtain false identity documents, so the illegals could "hit the beach with dry clothes and immigration documents waiting for them on the beach."
"That means there is someone dirty on the inside," he added. While the internal CIS report did not investigate potentially corrupt U.S. officials, it confirmed Maxwell's description of the Virgin Islands clandestine immigration pipeline.
"Once the aliens obtain documents," the Feb. 1, 2006 report stated, "they fly to San Juan and on to the [U.S.] mainland. With only a few flights in San Juan targeted for pre-flight inspection by CBP [Customs and Border Protection], an alien reaching San Juan is virtually assured of safe transport to the mainland 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 as any novel you have brought up from Miami or picked up since then."
In sworn testimony before House International Relations subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation on April 6, 2006, Maxwell said that his office had received complaints of "USCIS employees providing material support to known terrorists or being influenced by foreign intelligence services."
One USCIS employee, "co-opted by a foreign intelligence entity," had "the ability to grant the immigration of their choosing to the person or persons of their choosing," Maxwell said in his sworn testimony.
In an unclassified meeting with senior USCIS leadership in February 2006, which he attended, Maxwell says that agency Director Emilio Gonzales "mentioned two foreign intelligence operatives who work on behalf of USCIS at an interest section abroad and who are assisting aliens into the United States as we speak."
In introducing Maxwell to a congressional hearing in April, Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., said that USCIS was "riddled with fraud and corruption."
A big part of the problem, Royce added, was that "those deciding applications are under enormous pressure to reduce the backlog," and are told to "move the applications as fast as you can."
The subcommittee co-chair, Rep. Brad Sherman, D, Calif., said that Maxwell's information should be taken into account as Congress weighs a major new immigration law.
"We need to make sure that any change that we make in our immigration law does not overwhelm USCIS," Sherman said.
"It's not enough to adopt good policy, and that will be contentious here in Congress. It has to be a policy that the agency is capable of administering."
The information Michael Maxwell had provided the committee shows that "the agency has great difficulty administering even the present law," Sherman said.