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http://immigration.about.com/newsissues/immigration/gi/news/~f295184.htm Albuquerque Journal - September 07, 2000
Citizenship Program 'a Mess,' Justice Official Says
By Suzanne Gamboa
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - A Department of Justice investigator who led a probe of an Immigration and Naturalization Service citizenship program said Thursday the program's flaws were the result of an agency that is "a mess" with systemic problems that date back several administrations.
"It was a mess when Republicans were in office and is a mess with Democrats in office," Robert Ashbaugh, deputy inspector general of the Department of Justice, told a House immigration subcommittee.
Ashbaugh led an investigation of Citizenship USA, a program set up to reduce a backlog in naturalization applications. In granting citizenship to 1.2 million people, a number of people with criminal histories became citizens, he said.
Critics have claimed the program that was part of Vice President Al Gore's reinventing government effort was designed to produce thousands of new voters who would likely vote for the Clinton-Gore ticket in the 1996 presidential election. Ashbaugh concluded in a report released July 31 that there was no evidence the 1996 presidential election motivated the program's creation.
Democratic subcommittee members asked Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the subcommittee chairman, why the program was the subject of yet another hearing when other immigration matters had yet to be addressed.
"Today we beat and have already beaten a dead horse," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass. "We're in another election cycle, and today we are going to take a run on an issue we've been aware of for some time."
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said it was clear the hearing's purpose was partisan.
"Nothing negative or nothing undermining could be attributed to the vice president of the United States with respect to this program," Lee said.
"If that was the intent of this hearing today, it failed. I think we learned from this hearing is the importance of trying to assess how we can make INS better."
The hearing was requested by the inspector general, Smith said. But he added he would have held it anyway to point out some of findings that may have been missed.
Smith said the report did not absolve Gore and members of his staff and that the report said Gore and President Clinton's advisers had "mixed motives" for creating the program.
"The motives behind intervention by the White House and the vice president were clearly improper," said Smith.
Ashbaugh said INS launched the Citizenship USA program without addressing known problems in the naturalization process, such as files on an applicant's immigration history not being made available during adjudication hearings and poor criminal history background checks.
Those problems were in part responsible for the backlog Citizenship USA was created to address, he said.
"The deficiencies that were uncovered and laid bare and attributed to Citizenship USA had origins that went far deeper and went far back into the past," he said.
In 1999, INS received $171 million to reduce application backlogs with the focus on naturalization and another $5 million to create a record center.
Elaine Comis, a spokeswoman for INS, said projected processing time for a naturalization application has fallen from 28 months to 12 months.
Some of the problems cited in the inspector general's report also have been fixed, she said, in particular refusing to grant naturalization unless a criminal history has been received from the FBI.
"We realize that there are problems," Comis said. "We've always realized there are problems we've not always have resources to deal with those problems."
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