Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) and 13 Republican colleagues requested a congressional review Thursday of a program to conduct criminal background checks on immigrants that the lawmakers said "may be alarmingly vulnerable to fraud and abuse."
Their concern focuses on the process employed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service to do routine fingerprint checks on immigrants applying for citizenship, green cards or political asylum. The fingerprints are sent to the FBI to screen prospective newcomers for criminal records.
Gallegly and his colleagues expressed alarm over newspaper reports that unregulated storefront shops, charities and volunteer organizations are permitted to collect the fingerprints and are not required to ask for identification.
An INS spokesman said the agency relied on outside reputable groups as well as local police to do the fingerprinting. An INS spokesman has said the policy, which has been in practice for 12 years, was due to an overwhelming workload.
He said that there was no regulation or licensing of the businesses that play this role.
The 14 Republicans asked the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to determine "how the INS selects organizations to collect fingerprints of aliens seeking admission into the United States, and what safeguards exist to prevent fraud within that system."
Gallegly spearheaded the request.
The INS reported that the background checks had discovered that nearly 9,000 of the 890,000 immigrants whose fingerprints were submitted to the FBI in 1993 were found to have been convicted of a serious crime.
In a news release, Gallegly said: "How many more dangerous criminal aliens were among the 890,000 immigrants whose fingerprints were submitted to the FBI cannot be known because the prints themselves were so likely to have been fraudulent or tampered with."
An INS spokesman in Los Angeles said Thursday that he could not respond to the Republicans' letter in detail because he was not familiar with the program.