Ex-workers: US immigration application shortcuts taken for years - WNEM TV 5

Ex-workers: US immigration application shortcuts taken for years

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Former government contract workers at the National Benefits Center told KCTV5 News that for several years U.S. immigration applications and petitions were not always fully vetted.

"I'm more on the patriotic side, that I don't want people here who don't belong here," said Christine Masters, a former employee for Serco and another sub-contractor at the National Benefits Center.

Masters said from 2009 until when she left in December 2011, Serco managers often changed the policies for those that worked at the Lee's Summit site, so sometimes clerks did not fully review files.

"We were catching or trying to catch possible criminals and terrorists," said Masters to KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux.

"By not fully looking through that file, something possibly could have been missed?" questioned Chaloux.

"Absolutely," Masters said.

She said that U.S. taxpayers would have been "very scared" to know what was going on at the National Benefits Center during the time she was employed.

Back in June, KCTV5 reported the concerns of different former workers under Serco and a sub-contractor at the site that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's $190 million contract with Serco wasn't being properly followed.

"We were all concerned because we knew what the government wanted, we were directed another way," said Cissy Gagliano, a former Serco clerk supervisor.

Gagliano says one day Serco told the staff to not fully dig into the immigration files and only use a "smart search" or shortlist of official documents.

Former workers tell KCTV5 those files also had other non-official documents inside them that could be used to support the applicant's identity.

An official with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is under Homeland Security, told KCTV5 News that Serco is required to follow guidance published in USCIS' national operating procedures, which specifies that all documents in an applicant's file should be checked for aliases.

"Told to keep our mouth shut and do our jobs." said Kris, a former Serco subcontractor.

Kris, who asked that her full identity not be revealed, worked as a clerk.

She said the standard operating procedure would change quite often and that there were times the full files were not reviewed at the Lee's Summit site. Kris left in January of 2013.

Based on the allegations of former workers that spoke to KCTV5, it is possible that a lot of immigration documents may not have been thoroughly reviewed.

The Lee's Summit site, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, receives and processes approximately 2.2 million applications and petitions annually.

"The issue you reference is but one step in the entire process," said Alan Hill, Serco's senior vice-president of corporate communications and government relations. "In fact, applicants have already been through parts of the vetting process before Serco begins reviewing the files."

USCIS told KCTV5 that the agency learned in March 2012 that Serco contract employees at the National Benefits Center were not meeting requirements related to reviewing immigration cases.

A USCIS official said they, "continue to closely monitor Serco's performance."

"All applications and supporting documents go through multiple, overlapping processes and procedures by different people using different systems by both Serco and USCIS," said Hill.

KCTV5 asked U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services how long these alleged violations of the government contract may have been taking place or how many files could have not been thoroughly vetted. KCTV5 has yet to receive a reply.

"Once Serco became aware of the issue in early 2012, we developed additional training and tools to ensure our people were following all required procedures and policies," said Hill.

Back in June, USCIS press secretary Chris Bentley issued an official statement to KCTV5.

"USCIS is committed to safeguarding the integrity of the immigration process. Whenever allegations of wrongdoing are raised, USCIS fully investigates those charges and takes corrective action as appropriate," Bentley said.

A USCIS Official told KCTV that the checks conducted by Serco employees at the National Benefits Center are but one step in the screening process. Before an immigration benefit is granted, the USCIS adjudicating officer must ensure that all required checks have been performed on the individual, including any aliases associated with them.

Copyright 2014 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.

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