Immigration Security Checks
May 11, 2006

“Everything looks o.k. with your case, but we are awaiting final FBI clearance on your name check before we can approve you.” This may sound familiar to many of you who have recently appeared for an interview at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS) office on an application for U.S. permanent residence or citizenship. Unfortunately, those who are awaiting such a final security clearance, may find their applications on hold for many months or years. So exactly what is the exact nature of these security procedures? And what can be done to speed things up?

In today’s post 9/11 world, CIS has implemented a variety of security mechanisms that must be completed before an applicant is granted U.S. permanent residence or citizenship, and according to a recently released CIS public memo, they consist of the following:

  • Interagency Border Inspection System (IBIS) Name Check – this procedure involves CIS accessing data from various government agencies and data bases that may reveal information indicating the possible national security or public safety risk the applicant poses. The information from this database is immediately retrievable by the adjudicating CIS officer, and where the feedback obtained brings to light a question or concern, the applicant’s case will be continued for further investigation.
  • FBI Fingerprint Check – all applicants will have their fingerprints matched against a national database of fingerprints of individuals who have been arrested, and if there is a match, the CIS officer will obtain the FBI “RAP sheet” indicating all arrests on record for the applicant, including arrests for immigration violations. No matter the outcome of the criminal charge, the applicant will be required to submit a certified court disposition reflecting whether the applicant was convicted, and what penalty was imposed. Results of this check can be obtained fairly quickly, usually within 24 to 48 hours. As a side note, all applicants should know that despite efforts to erase or “expunge” a criminal record, the FBI fingerprint check will ALWAYS reveal the arrest – thus, complete applicant disclosure during any immigration process is strongly advised.
  • FBI Name Check – a separate and distinct procedure from the FBI Fingerprint Check. If an application for U.S. permanent residence or citizenship has been pending for an unusually long period, it’s a good bet that the FBI Name Check is at the root of the problem. The procedure involves matching the applicant’s name against “administrative, applicant, criminal, personnel and other files compiled by law enforcement.” Based on this description, it is not entirely clear how this procedure is different from IBIS, although I would suspect its intelligence reach is more encompassing. In 80% of cases, CIS is able to obtain conclusive feedback within 2 weeks and for the remaining 20% of cases, all but less than 1% are resolved in no more than 6 months.

A possible solution: when extended delays plague a case, the applicant has the option to file a federal lawsuit to compel CIS to issue a decision. The action, known as a Writ of Mandamus, can sometimes get things moving and allow for results that might otherwise not be achieved without such legal action. Other times, however, legitimate questions may still remain regarding an applicant’s eligibility and the reviewing court may still allow the government additional time to resolve whatever outstanding security or criminal concerns remain – albeit while keeping the government investigation on a shortened leash.

For more details, the recent CIS memo can be viewed in its entirety at Immigration Security Checks – How and Why the Process Works by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Copyright © 2006-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois