U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Blasts Journalist over Crime & Corruption Story: Journalist Fires Back
On January 24 Acting Deputy Director Michael Aytes, currently the highest ranking official at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), sent a scathing letter to CFP’s editor to rebuke an article I wrote on January 21 entitled, “Crime and Corruption at the UCSIS.” My article cited criminal investigations like this one where “…several USCIS employees” were “accused of aiding Islamic extremists with identification fraud and of exploiting the visa system for personal gain” as source material. Story here. “It was shameful reporting and a deliberate smear that should not be counted as news,” Aytes wrote, defending the USCIS, an agency he describes as a “superb organization.” He claimed that my “article served no other functional purpose other than to tarnish the honorable reputation of our employees and associate the entire USCIS workforce with criminals.” He also claimed that my article was full of “errors” and “inaccuracies,” however he did not cite the errors, or the alleged “inaccuracies.” To attack and smear a journalist’s credibility, particularly one who saw the crime and corruption up close and reported it to authorities leading to the conviction of two federal officials for taking cash bribes in exchange for American passports that incidentally launched an international manhunt is outrageous.
Please read Aytes letter here.
I think I must have struck a nerve.
Welcome to the dark inner intrigue at the USCIS, formerly the Immigration Nationalization Services that some people in government (not all) don’t want the public to know about. Contrary to Aytes’ assertion that my article “should not be counted as news,” Americans and the law abiding immigrants who fund the lion’s share of this agency’s $2.6 billion annual budget through user fees have the right to know what’s been going on there. Like a giant Ponzi scheme, the user fees feed the USCIS’ bureaucracy and the agency’s troubling backlogs because it accepts more immigration applications than it processes.
To begin, it is precisely for the honorable USCIS employees and for America’s national security and economic interests that the alleged crime, corruption and incompetence at the USCIS be reported and rooted out. Considering Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has tagged immigration reform “as one of the 10 most important legislative priorities for the 111th Congress,” let’s be candid—anything less and the problems will never be solved.
While Aytes tried to minimize the crime and corruption at the USCIS to a “few” employees, it is more extensive than I reported. A cursory search on Google will provide anyone with scores of examples. Like this one: “Atlanta, GA – Hashukh C. Patel, a Business Interface Representative for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and former USCIS Adjudication Officer, and his wife… were indicted by a federal grand jury on May 13, 2008. The indictment… charges both defendants with conspiracy to encourage…aliens to come to the U.S. [illegally] for the Patels’ private financial gain.” Indictment here.
Aytes contends that my article characterized the agency as “basically inhabited by crooks and thugs.” Those are his words, not mine but I do concur that the agency’s checkered history can paint that grim picture but no, not every federal employee is a crook or thug.
Bribery, be it for cash, gifts or for sex is but one criminal element at the USCIS. There are others like embezzlement and abuse of public trust. In the United States of America v. Catherine Ileen Spear, for instance, according to the indictment, “Catherine Spear worked as a federal immigration employee responsible for the intake of applications submitted by persons applying for changes in their immigration status. Instead of processing the applications, she kept the fees accompanying the applications and then threw the applications in the trash.” Read court records here:
I would argue that it is not my reporting that “tarnishes” the USCIS’ 18,000 federal employees, as Aytes alleges, rather it is the corrupt federal officials who tarnish it coupled by the agency’s record of inefficiency which includes the accumulation of a 20-year backlog of applications that contributes to an environment that invites corruption in the first place. As I previously reported here, a December 2008 Homeland Security Threat assessment determined that long immigration waits encourage foreigners to enter illegally. If Aytes takes this threat assessment at face value, then the USCIS is exacerbating America’s immigration problems. A private sector company with that record would have been out of business years ago. I am simply reporting a record that USCIS’ top chief apparently does not want the public to know anything about.
Now let’s look at an area where Aytes and I agree. Indeed, the USCIS plays a critical role in America’s immigration system. As he wrote in his reprimand: “As the gatekeepers of the United States’ immigration system, we all serve on the front lines of our homeland defense.”
Which is why fixing the problems at USCIS is an urgent issue of national security.
Amazingly Aytes bolstered my reporting, perhaps unwittingly, when he stated how the “USCIS established the Office of Security and Integrity (OSI) in 2007. “In doing so,” Aytes wrote, “we tripled the resources dedicated to this critical mission…” because as his statement suggests the crime and corruption at the USCIS had to have reached such high levels that a new bureaucracy with resources tripled (my emphasis) was created to try to curb it. Read about OSI here.
While I appreciate how Aytes boosted my article’s thesis, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out something he declined to mention. Depending on who is bribing federal officials, be it someone linked to terrorism, or wanted for other crimes, such as murder or drug smuggling —other law enforcement agencies like the FBI, Terrorism Task Force or various district attorney offices’ valuable resources supplement the USCIS’ resources to combat the crime and corruption that originated out of USCIS. More on this in an upcoming installment.
Moreover, Aytes must know I am far from the first person who shined a light on America’s immigration problems. Does he attack them?
Case in point, President Barack Obama shined a light. In fact, the Obama White House plans to “fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy…” Aytes took issue with me in his letter when I described the bureaucracy as “nonsensical.” I guess we can debate semantics with the White House here.
Additionally Aytes was displeased when I described the bureaucracy as “degrading” which was backed up with this example. “A USCIS adjudicator was arrested after he was caught on tape, telling a 22-year old Colombian woman, “I want sex,” he said… “You get your green card.” Story here: Degrading? Yes or no? Read more troubling encounters at Aytes “superb organization” here.
Then there is Senator John McCain’s point of view of Aytes “superb organization.” McCain “believes America’s immigration system is broken….” During his failed Presidential bid, McCain committed to clear out the backlog where people have waited for “up to 20-years…” Source johnmccain.com.
Another consideration is Congressman Zoe Lofgren’s findings. In this July 30, 2007, press release, for instance, Lofgren’s office said, “… USCIS has consistently failed to reduce application backlogs and has suffered from a lack of transparency and effective management… ‘After repeated requests over several months, USCIS has yet to provide Congress with a detailed plan…’”
Even last Friday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano—on the job for a little over a week showed she is aware of the problems and issued a wide-ranging immigration directive asking in part “what progress has been made in reducing the significant backlogs…” referring to those pesky backlogs that accumulated in Aytes’ “superb organization” that I contend “overwhelm” the agency and created an environment for crime and corruption to occur. Frankly, this is an easy connect the dots situation. See directive here.
Were the aforementioned tarnishing USCIS’ honorable reputation too, as Aytes accused me of doing, when they criticized it or were they drawing a conclusion based on USCIS’ record?
In closing, to eliminate the absurd notion that I could “tarnish” Aytes’ “superb organization” recall, if you will that it was the INS (now USCIS) who six months to the day after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi slammed planes into the World Trade Center, killing 3000 people who “notified a Venice, Florida, flight school that the two men had been approved for student visas.” It seems clear to me that everyone is aware of the serious problems at the USCIS except the USCIS’ Michael Aytes, but may not know just how serious the problems are —- be it criminal or procedural.
I would like to request an interview with Aytes. I’d like to report what it is like for an “Immigration Officer with more than 30 years experience” serving in a dysfunctional (President Obama’s description, not mine) bureaucracy, where year after year colleagues were indicted for bribery among other crimes and report his experience back to the public. Americans might want to know how this agency tasked in part to protect their national security was broken (Sen. McCain’s description, not mine).
I accept Aytes “challenge.” In doing so Aytes will discover that he mischaracterized me as “someone with very limited knowledge of the U.S. immigration system.” I stand by my article. The question is will Aytes stand by his letter?
Please check back for my next of several installments on Crime, Corruption and Incompetence at the USCIS.
Path to citizenship blocked by corruption