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neel_gump
05-12-2006, 04:20 PM
Security Checks : How and Why

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a Fact Sheet on April 25, 2006 regarding security checks under the U.S. immigration system. The purpose of the article is to explain the various types of security checks. As many MurthyDotCom and MurthyBulletin readers know, security checks have become a real source of contention, as they slow case processing for indeterminate periods of time. The fact sheet may be a reaction to growing unrest surrounding security check delays in processing both nonimmigrant and immigrant cases.

Background on Security Checks

All those who apply for immigration benefits must undergo criminal and national security background checks. The USCIS emphasized that these checks are performed on all applicants, and are not targeted at or against any particular group. These checks expanded after 9/11. The USCIS points out that most cases proceed without incident and in a timely fashion. They acknowledge, however, that some cases are held up for more than a year because of delays in the security checks.

Why Security Checks are Conducted

The background checks are aimed at identifying individuals who are a risk to national security, or are seeking otherwise to cause harm to the U.S. They are also designed to identify people attempting to abuse the immigration system. The USCIS will not grant an immigration benefit before the security checks are complete, regardless of the length of the delays. The USCIS states that they are working with the FBI and other agencies to try to increase the speed of the security checks.

We note that expediting the security checks not only benefits legitimate applicants who suffer from the delays, but serves the very purpose of the checks. The USCIS states that they have located various violent criminals, drug traffickers, and persons with links to terrorism through these checks. Clearly, no one wants dangerous individuals remaining within the U.S. To the extent that the background checks are being performed on applicants within the country, however, delays in the completion can serve to permit some of those applicants to remain in the U.S. lawfully during the time it takes the USCIS to complete the checks. For example, one who has a properly filed I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status pending is lawfully in the U.S. and is eligible for work authorization. If such a person is a threat, then a security check that drags on for a year or more only serves to extend that person's time in the United States. Thus, there is a security interest in not only performing proper checks, but in performing them in a timely fashion.

How Security Checks Work

The USCIS uses three types of checks as a standard background review for a variety of cases. They have the authority to conduct other sorts of background checks, if needed.

IBIS Name Checks Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) name checks are a generally quick manner of checking information from multiple government agencies that is in a combined database to determine if there is any information that is relevant to the decision in a particular case. The results are usually available quickly, but it may take more time to investigate any information revealed by the IBIS check.

FBI Fingerprint Checks Fingerprint checks are conducted by the FBI for many types of applications, but not all. Many of our clients and readers who are I-485 Adjustment of Status applicants are familiar with these checks, which provide any criminal background information on the adjustment applicant. The responses, according to the USCIS, are generally forwarded within one to two days. If there is a match, then the USCIS will get a criminal history sheet. This information will be reviewed to see if it affects eligibility for the benefit sought.

Sometimes, this information does not reflect the disposition or outcome of a particular crime. Thus, it is important for applicants to have proof, in the form of a certified copy of the disposition, in order to address the issue with the immigration officer. The USCIS notes that expungements or pardons, etc, must be reported. Anyone with a question about what has to be revealed should speak with an immigration attorney. It is important to understand that matters not considered to be convictions for general legal purposes, may be considered convictions for an immigration purpose. It also is important to have a good understanding of what happened in any criminal matter. We often meet individuals who are unable to explain how their cases ended - which is key in analyzing the impact a criminal charge has on the immigration status and eligibility for future benefits. Of course, we also strongly recommend that everyone comply with the law in all respects to avoid any criminal charge, whatsoever.

FBI Name Checks These name checks are required for many applications, and are different from the fingerprint checks. These involve a check of various law enforcement files and generally take about two weeks. The USCIS reports that 80 percent of these result in a "no match." This means that there is no matching record. For the remaining 20 percent, there is some match, and the matter has to be reviewed in more detail, in part to determine whether the applicant is the same individual as the person on record. These matters generally are resolved in six months. The USCIS reports that less than one percent of these take longer than six months. Such cases can be quite complex and sensitive and are not complete until all of the information is obtained and resolved.

Of course, given the volume of cases, one percent is still a great many people. Moreover, delays of six months, in addition to all of the other processing timeframes, can be significant and life-affecting. The impact on lives goes well beyond anxiety and stress, depending upon the situation.

Conclusion

The USCIS states that some delays are inevitable due to the sheer volume of cases. Background checks are considered pending when the FBI or other responsible agency has not responded or when there is a response that requires further investigation. According to the USCIS, the resolution of some cases is time consuming and labor intensive, and can take months or even years. At the local office level, "sweeps" of cases are performed to see which ones are cleared through the background check system and can be finalized. While the background check is underway, the USCIS does not share the information that has been uncovered or the status of any investigation with the applicant or the applicant's attorney.

We at the Murthy Law Firm appreciate this insight. We all understand the need for background checks on applicants for U.S. immigration benefits. The time that it takes, however, is a concern both from the benefits and security points of view. We would urge that ample resources be made available so that these matters can be resolved in a timely fashion. If there is a case so complex that years are required to find a resolution, the individual is potentially in the United States while it is ongoing. The potential risk makes this rather an urgent matter for our country and the safety of our people.