WASHINGTON -- The Immigration and Naturalization Service, trying to reduce the temptation for employees to take bribes, has decided to stop issuing work cards in district offices. Instead, beginning next spring, the cards will be mailed to immigrants from one or two central offices.
Work cards are given to immigrants awaiting hearings on their status. With the cards, they are free to look for work. But the cards are also prized because in some states they can be used to obtain driver's licenses, Social Security cards and other documents that are often used to demonstrate citizenship. As a result, the work cards can be a valuable item on the black market, costing illegal immigrants $500 or more.
In one case, eight employees of the Washington district office of the immigration service were recently convicted of accepting bribes. Altogether, the agency said, they had fraudulently given more than 4,000 people permission to work.
Nor was the corruption in the office an isolated case. Every year, dozens of immigration service employees are arrested on charges of corruption or related misconduct.
The new procedure on issuing work cards, one of a series of steps the service is taking to deal with its corruption problem, also comes as immigration has become an important political issue in this country.
The recommendation to mail the work cards from central offices came as part of a larger management review this fall of agency procedures.
This month, the agency is also installing a computer program that will enable internal auditors to track corruption and employee misconduct cases, and to see whether loopholes in the system made them possible.
The new tracking system is intended to allow auditors to spot common elements in repeated cases and take corrective action, a practice the agency had neglected before.