Border Security: Fraud Risks in Managing Diversity Visa Program
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Diversity visas provide an immigration opportunity to aliens from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Diversity visa applicants must apply online, be selected by lottery, be interviewed, and be determined to be eligible before obtaining a diversity visa.
At the requested of the US Congress, the Government Accountability Office reviewed laws, regulations, and other documentation, and interviewed numerous US State Department officials both at headquarters and in the field.
The DV program is contributing to the diversity of U.S. immigrants, according to the Bush Administration and several lawmakers in Washington, DC. More than 500,000 aliens from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States have become legal permanent residents through the program.
Little is known about diversity immigrants once they enter the United States, such as whether they contribute to further diversity by petitioning for family members to immigrate. The DV program is vulnerable to fraud committed by and against DV applicants, but the State Department has not compiled comprehensive data on detected and suspected fraudulent activity.
At 5 of the posts the GAO reviewed, consular officers reported that the majority of DV applicants, lacking access to a computer or internet savvy, use "visa agents" to enter the lottery. Some agents take advantage of DV applicants.
For example, visa agents in Bangladesh have intercepted applicants' program documents and charged ransoms of up to $20,000 or coerced applicants into sham DV marriages. Consular officers at 6 of the 11 posts reviewed reported that widespread use of fake documents, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, and passports, presented challenges when verifying the identities of applicants and dependents.
Difficulty in verifying identities has security implications because State's security checks rely heavily on name-based databases. In 2003, the US State Department's Inspector General raised concerns that aliens from countries designated as state sponsors of terrorism can apply for diversity visas.
Nearly 9,800 persons from these countries have obtained permanent residency in the United States through the program. The GAO claims they found no documented evidence that DV immigrants from these, or other, countries posed a terrorist or other threat.
However, experts familiar with immigration fraud believe that some individuals, including terrorists and criminals, could use fraudulent means to enter or remain in the United States.
This places a premium on mitigating fraud risks. Despite taking steps to strengthen the DV program, State does not have a strategy to address the pervasive fraud reported by some posts. State believes that some legislative changes could mitigate fraud risks, but it has not made formal proposals for change and has not compiled data on program outcomes and fraud trends which would help decision makers consider whether legislative changes are needed.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.