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Jun 15, 2006
USCIS Explains How Immigration Security Checks Work
- Atty. Michael Gurfinkel Email this article

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the US Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) has required enhanced criminal and national security background checks on all applicants for immigration benefits, regardless of ethnicity, national origin or religion. Applicants have sometimes expressed frustration over delays that sometimes stretch to a year or longer.


USCIS realizes the great anxiety that these delays have caused, but the USCIS recently issued a press release, explaining the need for these background checks in order “to enhance national security and ensure the integrity of the immigration process.”


In fact, according to USCIS, these security checks have uncovered applicants who were involved in violent crimes, fraud, misrepresentations, drug trafficking, and individuals with known links to terrorism. The USCIS stresses that these investigations require time, resources and patience. The agency is working closely with the FBI and other agencies to speed the background check process. It said, however, that it will never grant an immigration service or benefit before the required security checks are completed, regardless of how long those checks take.


The USCIS uses several background checks for persons applying for immigration benefits:


1.                  The Inter-agency Border Inspection System (IBIS) Name Check -- This system is a multi-agency effort, with a central system that combines information from multiple agencies, databases, and system interfaces to compile data relating to national security risk, public safety and other law enforcement concerns.

2.                  FBI Fingerprint Check -- FBI fingerprint checks, which are required for many applications, provide information relating to criminal background within the United States. Generally, the FBI forwards response to USCIS within 24 to 48 hours. In cases involving arrests or charges without disposition, USCIS requires the applicant to provide court-certified evidence that the cases have been dismissed.

3.                  FBI Name Checks – The FBI Name Check is totally different from a fingerprint check. The records maintained in the FBI name check process consist of administrative, applicant, criminal, personnel and other files compiled by law enforcement. Initial responses to these checks generally take about two weeks. In about 80 percent of these cases, no match is found. Of the remaining 20 percent, most are resolved within six months. But if you have a very common name, and someone else with the same name has a “hit,” it would take time for this security check, to make sure it was not you who committed the crime.


All applicants for immigration benefits must be aware of the importance of these background checks, and should be more understanding of the delays in immigration processing because of these security checks. If there are issues of an erroneous “hit” on your record, i.e. you’re being accused of a crime or violation you did not commit, I suggest you consult with an attorney, who can advise you of the reasons for the delay and perhaps help you present needed evidence if there are problems with your application.





Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 25 years, and is an active member of the State Bar of California and New York, as well as the American Immigration Lawyers Association and the Immigration Section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association.  He has always excelled in school:  Valedictorian in High School; Cum Laude at UCLA; and Law Degree Honors and academic scholar at Loyola Law School, which is one of the top law schools in California. 




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(This is for informational purposes only, and reflects the firm's opinions and views on general issues.  Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of a particular case. All immigration services are provided by an active member of the State Bar of California and/or by a person under the supervision of an active member of the State Bar.  No prediction, warranty or guarantee can be made about the results of any case.  Should you need or want legal advice, you should consult with and retain counsel of your own choice.)

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