9/20/18, by Charles Thaddeus Fillinger
Mass Overseas Refugee Fraud: The Long-Term and Catalyzing Effect on the U.S. Immigration System
“Family reunification” is a cornerstone of U.S. immigration policy, but it has a dark and disturbing side. In the refugee processing context, it takes the form of the Priority Three (P-3) family reunification program.
A shockwave was sent through the overseas P-3 program in 2008 when “pilot” DNA tests revealed massive fraud. Near total fraud levels were confirmed, making it the greatest refugee fraud crisis in immigration history. The program was understandably suspended. It did not restart until four years later, in 2012, with a permanent DNA screening requirement.
Turning off the overseas fraud faucet did not address the domestic fraud barrel. Left unresolved was the issue of thousands of fraudulent refugees who surged into the United States for twenty years while the failed overseas P-3 program was active.
The top nationality processed in East Africa were Somali nationals. Many Somali refugees now live in Maine.
Most would assume that the federal agency administering the domestic system — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — would not allow the failures of the overseas program to be replicated domestically. Regrettably, 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.
The result: yesterday’s fraudulent refugees became today’s green card holders and U.S. citizens in disquietingly large numbers. Fraudsters almost always hit jackpots when they apply for immigration benefits.
A more panoramic view is required to discern the full impact.
The vast curtain of refugee fraud stretches from the past to the present, from multiple overseas locations to various urban centers in the United States — including in the Pine Tree State — across tangled webs of fictitious families, and extends to every corner of the immigration benefits delivery system.
The fraud was epic in every sense of the word — and continues today.
How did that happen? It was because USCIS did not, in the aftermath of the crisis, retool the domestic system in the same manner as the overseas program. Overseas fraud changed everything. Domestic safeguards changed little.
What draws added attention to this issue is that almost every form of human trafficking and national security danger have representatives in the huge domestic P-3 caseload. Fraudulent refugees did not take over some trivial piece of immigration real estate. They swept over the domestic P-3 system in the thousands, up to and including U.S. citizenship.
Both Lehman Brothers and the P-3 program collapsed in 2008. The U.S. economy bounced back, but not the domestic P-3 system. The long shadow of refugee fraud continues with staggering and catalyzing effect, confirming the truth of the old maxim that history often repeats itself.
The fraud now flooding the domestic immigration system is a direct descendant of the failed overseas P-3 refugee program. Mass fraud in the overseas program was duplicated in the domestic system, making it more destructive and diffuse. Seismic fraud brutally remade the composition of the domestic P-3 system, but there was no reshaping of USCIS defenses to counter the threat.
Inaction is the nail that holds the two halves together. The same fraudulent refugees who successfully exploited the overseas program continue their rampage in the domestic system. Long-term government inaction normalized refugee fraud, doubled its impact, fueled its spread, and magnified its danger.
Recycling fraud in the United States is a demonstrably flawed and dangerous policy path. The aimless domestic P-3 system is still looking for direction in 2018.
The overseas program came of age, but not the domestic. Fraud occurs at a rate in the domestic P-3 system that would have been considered unthinkable years ago. It’s not going to stop. Until the domestic system is also carefully examined inwardly, and processing flaws corrected, it will never see outwardly to combat the fraud.
The overseas program and domestic P-3 system need similar screening layouts, both bristling with layered defenses to keep fraudsters at bay. That has yet to happen domestically.
In a perverse sense of symmetry, the same vulnerabilities that allowed almost total exploitation of the failed overseas program still exists in the domestic system. Instead of spurring remedial action and demagnetizing the system from abuse, USCIS creates a huge incentive. Fraud runs circles around USCIS, an agency that is supposed to maintain integrity and vigilance in the domestic system.
Hard-learned overseas lessons should have earned their way into domestic policy long ago.
Think: a collapsing economy, automotive design defects, counterfeit overseas medicines, or substandard consumer products. You can’t fix one part of a malfunctioning supply chain, but not another, and then expect the production line to run efficiently.
USCIS’s extended inaction created a de facto amnesty for a massive block of fraudulent refugees in the United States. That decision should have been made by Congress, not by an agency.
New leaders are sure to understand the need for reform in the tempest-tossed, domestic P-3 system. We hand the system over to fraudulent refugees when there are inadequate defenses. Reforming one process, but not the other, allows legions of bad actors to continue abusing the unprotected process.
As presently configured, the domestic P-3 system is nothing more than a full-service immigration fraud mill.
Until USCIS takes decisive action, the domestic system will continue its long slide toward collapse, the same fate that befell the failed overseas program after twenty years of dysfunction. The tightening cycle will not end until fraudulent refugees pillage every possible domestic immigration benefit.
In the end, all that will be left is the wreckage of two adjudications systems and, of course, thousands of delighted fraudulent refugees in Maine and across the United States.
Follow the trend line. In the overseas program, it went from collapse in 2008 to success in 2012. Just the opposite happened in the United States. It lurched from overseas to domestic breakdown. Unsurprising, since the same playbook used in the failed overseas program is still be being used in the domestic system.
Complacency was the ignition and accelerant for domestic policy failure. There must be a dramatic turnaround.
The wide gap between overseas and domestic fraud defenses should be closed. USCIS can erase the fumbles and failures of the last ten years. Backward glances at what happened overseas in 2008 and 2012 are entirely appropriate for policymakers looking for a sensible domestic policy direction in 2018.
The newly-established Asylum Vetting Center in Atlanta or the planned National Vetting Center can do some of the heavy-lifting connected with domestic refugee fraud screenings. The reform undertaken today won’t be just for today. It will be ennobled by the higher objective of restoring integrity in the immigration system of tomorrow.
It’s about making and keeping a sense of rightness and fair play. There is too much at stake — the triple threat of national security, mass refugee fraud, and human trafficking — to do otherwise.
Charles Thaddeus Fillinger 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 30-page policy paper on the deepening reach of P-3 refugee fraud in the United States. See Fillinger, Charles, A Decade of Policy Failure: The Impact of Mass Refugee Fraud on the U.S. Immigration System (July 30, 2018), available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3220352 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3220352. Fillinger retired from ICE in 2012 and lives in Thailand. The views in this letter are his and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any agency.