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Donald Trump
stated on September 26, 2016 in a presidential debate at Hofstra University:
"These people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don't even know."
true mostly-true
Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde September 29, 2016

Trump says 1,800 people who were going to be deported ended up becoming citizens

Right before the first presidential debate wrapped up, Donald Trump repeated his desire to "make America great again" and his views that the current state of the country is not good.

"We are a nation that is seriously troubled. We're losing our jobs. People are pouring into our country," Trump said. "The other day, we were deporting 800 people. And perhaps, they pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption. But these people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens -- ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don't even know."

We wanted to know more about the hundreds of people Trump said became citizens instead of being deported.

His campaign pointed to a CNN article published Sept. 20 about a report from the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department about 858 immigrants who were supposed to be deported but were granted U.S. citizenship instead.

"But the truth is the report is even worse than reported, with more than 1,800 individuals naturalized who should have been deported from the country," the CNN article said.

Inspector General’s report

The Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department issued a report Sept. 8 about "potentially ineligible individuals" being granted U.S. citizenship due to incomplete fingerprint records.

Immigrants applying to become naturalized U.S. citizens are required to submit fingerprints, reveal other identities or names used and if they have been in deportation proceedings.              

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) then runs the applicant’s fingerprints against DHS and FBI digital fingerprint databases to check for other possible identities, criminal arrests and convictions, immigration violations, deportations and links to terrorism. If there’s a match, USCIS determines whether the applicant is still eligible for naturalization.

The Inspector General’s office determined that 1,029 people had become citizens even though they had final deportation orders under another identity.

Of the 1,029 individuals, 858 did not have digital fingerprint records available in DHS’ fingerprint repository when USCIS was reviewing and deciding on their applications, the report said. (For comparison, roughly 701,000 people receive naturalization each year.)

The people who received citizenship may have had old paper-based fingerprint records, but those are missing from DHS’ digital repository. Those old records were not digitized and uploaded into it when the repository was initially developed in 1994, the report said.

The vast majority of those paper-based records are from the 1990s, DHS said. The Inspector General’s report does not specify the years when the individuals became naturalized citizens.

The CNN article referenced by Trump’s campaign emphasized a footnote on the report, which said that as of November 2015, an additional 953 people had been naturalized while being subject to final deportation orders. The footnote said it was not known when the fingerprints of the 953 people were digitized or how many of their records were available in DHS’ digital files when their applications were being examined and decided.

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It seems likely the actual number of people ordered deported but who became U.S. citizens is actually 1,982 (the 1,029 plus the 953 identified in the footnote), said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank favoring restrictions on immigration.

"So Trump was actually understating the results," Krikorian said.

A DHS spokesman said a review team is looking into hard copies of each file identified in the Inspector General’s report. A total of 1,811 cases are being reviewed -- the 858 for whom digitized records were not available during the naturalization process,  and the 953 for whom it’s not known if their digital records were in the system when their applications were being reviewed and decided.

DHS said more investigation is needed before it can be determined if people were naturalized when they shouldn’t have been.

"It is important to note that the fact that fingerprint records in these cases may have been incomplete at the time of the naturalization interview does not necessarily mean that the applicant was in fact granted naturalization, or that the applicant obtained naturalization, fraudulently," said Neema Hakim, DHS spokesman.

Hakim said the ongoing review found approximately 100 cases among those identified in the OIG report where the individuals were not in fact granted citizenship.

Lack of digitized fingerprints

During the debate, Trump said hundreds of immigrants who were to be deported became citizens perhaps because officials "pressed the wrong button, or perhaps worse than that, it was corruption."

The Inspector General’s report does not outline corruption as a reason, but a lack of modernized records.

"As long as the older fingerprint records have not been digitized and included in the repositories, USCIS risks making naturalization decisions without complete information and, as a result, naturalizing additional individuals who may be ineligible for citizenship or who may be trying to obtain U.S. citizenship fraudulently," the report said.

Immigrants who become naturalized U.S. citizens can petition for others to come to the United States, may obtain security clearances or perform security-sensitive work (as was the case of three naturalized citizens identified in the report, their credentials have been revoked).

Our ruling

Trump said, "These people that we were going to deport for good reason ended up becoming citizens. Ended up becoming citizens. And it was 800. And now it turns out it might be 1,800, and they don't even know."

Trump’s statement accurately references a CNN report that at least 1,800 people who had deportation orders had become naturalized U.S. citizens. An Inspector General report found that old paper records hadn’t been transferred to modern digital databases.

There are a few details worth noting. An ongoing review found that about 100 cases identified in the Inspector General’s report were actually not granted citizenship. And, having a previous final deportation order does not always make an individual ineligible for naturalization.

Trump’s statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, we rate it Mostly True.

Our Sources

The Washington Post, transcript of presidential debate at Hofstra University, Sept. 26, 2016

Email exchange, Donald Trump campaign, Sept. 27, 2016

Homeland Security Department, Potentially Ineligible Individuals Have Been Granted U.S. Citizenship Because of Incomplete Fingerprint Records, Sept. 8, 2016

CNN, Number of those wrongly given citizenship higher than initially reported, Sept. 20, 2016

Associated Press, More than 800 immigrants mistakenly granted citizenship, Sept. 19, 2016

NPR, U.S. Erroneously Grants Citizenship To More Than 850 Immigrants, Sept. 20, 2016

The Washington Post, 858 immigrants from ‘special interest countries’ were mistakenly given citizenship. That’s a gift to Trump, Sept. 20, 2016

Email exchange, DHS spokesperson, Sept. 27, 2016

Email interview, Mark Krikorian, executive director Center for Immigration Studies, Sept. 27, 2016

Email interview, Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at Cato Institute, Sept. 27, 2016

Phone interview, Greg Chen, director of advocacy at American Immigration Lawyers Association, Sept. 28, 2016

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Trump says 1,800 people who were going to be deported ended up becoming citizens

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