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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Audit Reveals Flawed U.S. Citizenship Screening

WASHINGTON -- In its effort to speed up the naturalization process, the Clinton administration may have failed to adequately check as many as 180,000 of last year's 1 million new citizens for criminal records, a preliminary study found.

Officials at the Immigration and Naturalization Service said the agency has yet to determine how many, if any, immigrants who escaped full FBI checks should have been denied citizenship because of criminal records.

Responding to congressional inquiries and media reports, INS officials have acknowledged serious shortcomings in their Citizenship USA program. But agency officials say many improvements already have been made. An internal audit, overseen by an independent accounting firm and the Justice Department, is reviewing the problems.

Congressional Republicans complained Monday that government sloppiness could have allowed murderers or drug dealers to slip through. They pointed to the audit's preliminary findings as evidence of their contention that Citizenship USA, launched in August 1995, was designed to rush out new citizens in time to vote Democratic in the 1996 elections.

"In its unprecedented push to rush through a million new citizens, potential voters all, the INS may have allowed dangerous criminals onto our streets, all the while denying it was doing exactly that," said Rep. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.

INS spokesman Eric Andrus said Citizenship USA was an effort to deal with a burgeoning caseload that created a backlog of two years for immigration processing in some cities. The backlog was reduced to six months, he said, although it's creeping up again as new security measures are put in place.

"Elections and politics had nothing to do with it," Andrus said.

So far, the internal audit has found the names of more than 66,000 new citizens who apparently were never subjected to an FBI criminal background check, as required by law.