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Not all of the factors that affected the quality of naturalization adjudications during CUSA concerned the quality of the adjudicators' training and experience, the substantive guidance they were given, or even the production pressures under which they worked, all of which we have addressed in chapters. In our next two chapters we address these aspects of naturalization processing during CUSA. Here, we address the role of the applicant file in the naturalization process.

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An applicant's file contains his or her immigration history. As such, it is an important source of information for the adjudicator who interviews the applicant and makes the determination of eligibility. There had instead been gradual erosion, Washington back at least to the early s, of the traditional notion that the permanent file should be available for the officer at interview. That erosion was in part a aytes of INS' inability to manage the huge of files it had created as its workload grew. INS looked forward to an automated future in which a hard-copy file would no longer be necessary.

In the meantime, however, it failed to maintain its records management, and the use of temporary files became more common. By the time of CUSA, INS become so accustomed to poor file-handling procedures, and fixing the problems appeared so daunting a task, that CUSA managers increased production with little concern about what ramifications the increased production would have on file availability and file review in conjunction with naturalization adjudication.

INS implemented new processing strategies that undermined its ability to provide adjudicators with applicant files for their review as part of the determination of eligibility. Computer systems on which INS relied for the successful movement of files from one office to another, known to be deficient before CUSA, were relied on even more heavily and failed under the strain.

Temporary files proliferated. Efforts to "streamline" the naturalization process further eroded file practices, institutionalizing the idea that file review dating not a necessary part of every naturalization adjudication.

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As a result, CUSA increased the likelihood of naturalization adjudication errors caused by the failure to review the applicant's file. In addition, the contemporaneous creation of hundreds of thousands of temporary files had the collateral consequence of exacerbating pre-existing difficulties in records maintenance and control, the very difficulties which had originally contributed to INS' increased reliance on temporary files.

We begin our discussion of A-file policy and practice with a description of the role of the applicant file in the naturalization process as it was traditionally envisioned.


We then trace the factors that led INS to widen the gap between ideal and actual file practices. We show how INS' vision of the new, streamlined naturalization process, in the name of increased production, diminished the opportunity for meaningful file review.

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Finally, at the end of the chapter we offer examples of how INS' failure to manage its records affected not only its ability to properly evaluate an applicant's eligibility, but also its ability to maintain accurate records concerning who was naturalized during CUSA. The A-file and its role in naturalization processing. Since January 1,INS has maintained any records relating to an individual alien in a file referred to as the "Administrative File" or A-file.

An A-file is created when INS action is initially required for a particular person. For example, when an immigrant visa is issued, the visa is sent to an Immigrant Card Facility and an A-file is generated. Many other events trigger the creation of an A-file, including the initiation of an exclusion proceeding, the receipt of a petition to classify an immigrant's spouse or other relative for some benefit, or, according to the INS Records Operations Handbook, "any other time a case file is needed.

No one can be granted permanent residency or citizenship without an A-file.

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Once created, it is the repository of all immigration records concerning that individual. Naturalization adjudication has historically rested on the principle that the A-file is required for the applicant's naturalization interview. It has been the vehicle for the storage and movement of the application itself, as well as related documentation and correspondence.

Of more substantive importance, the A-file contains the records of how the applicant had become a permanent resident and any other formal contact he or she has had with INS. By reviewing the applicant's file, the interviewer can learn the applicant's immigration history in order to determine whether the applicant meets the threshold criteria for naturalization, such as the requisite period of permanent residency.

Review of a properly maintained A-file can also ensure that there is no other potentially disqualifying aytes, such as deportation, that is being simultaneously pursued by INS against the applicant. As witnesses emphasized to the OIG, the file permitted the interviewing officer to confirm the applicant's identity and to validate the information provided by the applicant or conversely to identify misrepresentations.

More generally, the information in the file provides the context for review of the citizenship application and a foundation for selecting pertinent questions for the naturalization interview. The information elicited by these questions forms the basis for the determination of the applicant's "good moral character," a central statutory requirement for citizenship eligibility. In short, the A-file, in combination with the application for citizenship, is the primary touchstone for the face-to-face interview that determines eligibility.

As INS managers and field personnel consistently acknowledged to the OIG, the presence of the A-file dating the naturalization interview was a necessary element of a proper adjudication. In the words of former Associate Commissioner for Adjudications Lawrence Weinig, an officer without an A-file is "operating in the dark.

This principle was still at the core of Washington processing during fiscal year Although INS had developed its electronic record-keeping methods, no database existed that could convey accurately all of the information contained in an applicant's A-file.

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Principle v. Despite the widespread consensus that the A-file should play an integral role in the naturalization interview, INS had become reliant to a ificant degree, long before CUSA, on using temporary files in lieu of A-files in the adjudication of naturalization applications. A temporary file was generally a folder containing only the naturalization application and a printout from INS' Central Index System CIS showing the applicant's immigration status. It did not contain the actual records detailing the applicant's contact with INS or information concerning how the applicant became a permanent resident.

Thus, even before fiscal yearthere was already a gulf between what INS managers proclaimed was sound naturalization processing practice and the actual practice. In the sections that follow, we describe INS' temporary file policy and practice, the conditions that gave rise to them, and the resulting vulnerabilities this presented to naturalization processing.

The policy of temporary files. The use of temporary files grew out of the problems resulting from A-file movement and management.

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If a permanent resident moved to another part of the country before applying for citizenship, the A-file had to be transferred from the original district to the district where the applicant had filed for citizenship. As the volume of naturalizations increased, the of inter-district file transfers also increased. In addition, some districts grew so large that keeping track of A-files even within the district became a monumental task. Over time and as the volume of files increased, INS became less competent at moving files from place to place in a timely fashion.

As a result, applicants sometimes found their citizenship applications in limbo because their A-file could not be located.

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In response to its failures to "[maintain] proper custody and distribution" of permanent files, INS issued a directive in February concerning the use of temporary files. According to the Crosland memo, a petitioner could be naturalized using only a temporary file if:.

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The Field also was instructed to have an officer review the temporary file used for naturalization "prior to routine file closing actions. Although not all INS personnel interviewed by the OIG on the subject were aware of this specific iteration of the temporary file policy, they consistently understood its gist: that naturalization interviews could be conducted using temporary files and that an applicant could be naturalized on the basis of a temporary file if there was proof that the applicant was a permanent resident and a diligent but nevertheless unsuccessful search for the A-file had been made.

Most witnesses also added, as is noted in the Crosland directive, that the "diligent search" should last at least six months, and that a temporary file should only be used if there was no indication that the A-file might contain disqualifying information. The Crosland directive did not require a search for the permanent file before the applicant's interview.

Articulation of this new policy Washington more than identify the criteria for reliance on a temporary file. In addition to providing guidance for whether an A-file was necessary, it also implicitly told the field when it was required.

Although there was some value to reviewing the file after the interview, the A-file's primary relevance to the naturalization process was in its role as the fundamental tool to glean information to determine an applicant's eligibility for citizenship. If absence of the A-file at interview did not always mean that the adjudicator remained "in the dark," its presence often provided a great deal of potential illumination. Although a diligent post-interview review of the A-file might reveal some actionable inconsistencies between the information in the file and that provided in the N application, many other issues would remain hidden or underdeveloped without the type of exploration that could only occur during the interview.

Before and during CUSA, however, consistent with Acting Commissioner Crosland's articulation of the temporary file policy, the Key City Districts did not require the A-file to conduct a naturalization interview. Even in those districts that enforced a policy of "diligent searches" for A-files and not all didaytes were only required before naturalization final hearingand not before the applicant's interview. Inadequate criteria for the use of temporary files. Beyond implicitly sanctioning the practice of conducting interviews without A-files, the Crosland directive failed to establish standards that would lead to uniformity in searching for and obtaining permanent files.

While it implied that reliance on temporary files should be the exception rather than the rule, the directive provided little guidance other than to tell the Field to search for the file for at dating six months. There was no guidance, for example, concerning the nature or extent of the file search. Over the 15 years that passed Washington institution of the policy and implementation of CUSA, locating the A-file became an increasingly complex task that grew more dependent upon automation.

The instruction to the Field to be "diligent" in its searches gave the policy a patina of commitment to obtaining the file, but little else. In the dating of an objective measure, the standard for diligence differed from district to district. Similarly, the directive's prohibition against using a temporary file if there was an indication aytes the file will reveal more than is already known" about naturalization eligibility sounded appropriately circumspect but was largely meaningless in practice.

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It created a Catch one need not review the file unless its contents raised concerns and one cannot know what the contents are until the file is reviewed. While this proscription told the districts that they should not ignore obvious indications that the missing file did indeed contain some potentially disqualifying information, that warning was irrelevant to the bulk of the cases.

Not surprisingly, the implementation of the temporary file policy in the Key City Districts reflected the policy's weaknesses. First, none of the Key City Districts required adjudicators to locate and review the A-file before the applicant's interview. In the environment that existed before CUSA, a commitment to obtaining A-files meant only that they would be obtained by the time of the naturalization ceremony.

Moreover, because no objective criteria for "diligence" were promulgated, even this limited commitment to file integrity varied among the districts. Some districts, for example, adopted a liberal view of "diligence" and essentially abandoned any meaningful efforts to find or review the file at any time before naturalization. In the absence of clear standards, the extent and quality of the search was dependent upon the attitude of local management and on resource allocation.