U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services founded the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate in 2004 in response to abuses of the system and concerns about terrorism.
The FDNS was charged with ensuring that immigration benefits did not go to individuals who are a threat to the country or public safety, or who seek to cheat the system. FDNS officers are located in every USCIS center and field office, and they also work within other government agencies.
Much of the work that the FDNS officers do is on computers. The officers check databases and public information sources to verify information and petitions that immigrants have submitted. FDNS looks for patterns of fraud and potential loopholes in the system that allow abuses to occur. Green card holders and immigrants seeking naturalization are often the focus of investigations.
According to the FDNS, three main types of administrative inquiries are possible:
- Performance of fraud assessments – FDNS officers engage in fraud assessments (including Benefit Fraud and Compliance Assessments) to determine the types and volumes of fraud in certain immigration benefits programs; Compliance Reviews – Systematic reviews of certain types of applications or petitions to ensure the integrity of the immigration benefits system, Targeted site visits – Inquiries conducted in cases where fraud is suspected.
The FDNS can investigate anything from fraudulent marriages, to fictitious identities to terrorist activity. Officers often play an important role in serving as liaisons between USCIS and local law enforcement agencies. Many times FDNS research and connections provide the glue that holds together cases that otherwise would have fallen apart.
The FDNS often works in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). FDNS does research and develops cases, and then ICE does the leg work and investigates in the field. The hard work that FDNS officers do behind the scenes makes it possible for ICE to knock on doors and make arrests.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress called for a crackdown on immigrants who abused the system, either for personal or political reasons. During the 2012 debate over comprehensive immigration reform, many members of Congress insisted that the work of FDNS be broadened as part of system's overhaul.
A typical FDNS case came to fruition in the summer of 2013 in San Francisco. An Immigration Services officer at the city's field office uncovered two violation by Jie Zhong, a Chinese immigrant.
The officer was suspicious that Zhong had taken part in a fraudulent marriage with the idea of preserving his permanent residency and eventually finalizing his U.S. citizenship. After interviewing Zhong, the officer referred the case to FDNS, which worked with ICE to take the case to U.S. District Court.
On Aug. 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James revoked Zhong's naturalization. According to USCIS, the investigators “successfully showed Zhong illegally procured citizenship after providing false testimony under oath, thus lacking the good moral character requisite for naturalization, and procured naturalization by concealment of a material fact.”
If an immigration judge finds Zhong removable, he will be deported from the United States to China.
“We at USCIS are proud of having developed this case for successful prosecution,” said Rebecca Galindo, FDNS chief for the San Francisco district. “Anyone who enters the United States, immigrates and later becomes a citizen through fraud harms the integrity of our immigration system by their unlawful actions. They should be aware we will work tirelessly to bring them to justice.” FDNS hopes that by publicizing its successful cases it can help deter future incidents of fraudulent behavior.
“The prosecution of this case demonstrates the commitment of this office to preventing immigration fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern California district. “Both naturalization and asylum are precious immigration benefits, and it is important to ensure that the path to each is secure.”