DHS head: 750 immigrants granted accidental citizenship

DHS head: 750 immigrants granted accidental citizenship
© Cameron Lancaster

The actual number of individuals under deportation orders who were accidentally given U.S. citizenship is around 750, approximately 100 fewer than a watchdog reported, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday.

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Pressed at a hearing by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) on the number of immigrants given citizenship from so-called special interest countries, Johnson tried to downplay fears but said he did not know.

“I have no basis to believe that any of them were terrorists or suspected terrorists,” Johnson said told the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which was examining terrorist threats to the U.S. 

“You didn’t think to ask if any were from Libya or Syria?” Sasse asked.

“Just sitting here right now, I cannot give you the answer to the question and I don’t want to be wrong,” Johnson replied.

The 750 individuals slipped through the system because their digital fingerprint records were not in DHS or FBI databases, according to the inspector general's audit, allowing them to apply for citizenship under another identity.

The audit, released last week, revealed that fingerprint records were missing for 315,000 immigrants who had been issued final deportation orders or who are criminals or fugitives.

While officials have yet to review approximately half of those records in an effort to digitize them, Johnson said Tuesday that the fingerprints will be fully digitized in nine months.  

The original report offers conflicting estimates of the number of individuals granted citizenship. 

In addition to the "at least" 858 it said were granted citizenship without a fingerprint on file, the report also identified 953 additional individuals who had final deportation orders under another identity and were naturalized. 

But the agency did not have a record of the dates that these 953 individuals’ fingerprint records were digitized, so the OIG could not determine the number whose records were available when their applications were being reviewed.

The incident has drawn ire on Capitol Hill.

Committee Chairman Ron JohnsonRon JohnsonCruz: Tax reform chances ‘drop significantly’ if healthcare fails GOP frets over stalled agenda Conservatives target Congress, not Trump, after healthcare collapse MORE (R-Wis.) sent Johnson a letter on Monday demanding that the administration turn over more information on how the mistake occurred. 

--Updated 2:00 p.m.