USCIS database

How agencies access immigration data

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has developed a service that allows it -- along with other components of the Department of Homeland Security and select federal agencies such as the State Department --  to submit a single background query on citizens, immigrants, residents and visitors to the United States.

Developed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Person Centric Query Service allows authorized users to search across connected systems, according to a USCIS Privacy Impact Statement released March 8.  Users can search by name, Alien Registration Number, Social Security number, birthdate, residential address, phone number, E-mail address, certificate of citizenship number, naturalization certificate number, Student & Exchange Visitor Information System ID, and Visa Control Number.

The service can even bring up photographs, biometrics, background check results and "encounter information" from border agencies databases.

USCIS is currently using the PCQS, according to an agency spokesman. The service functions differently than a straight background check, he said, focusing mainly on an individual's interactions with DHS agencies during the immigration process.  It returns a consolidated view of an individual's past interactions with DHS components and other agencies as he or she passed through the U.S. immigration system. A background check, on the other hand, generally focuses on the immigrant or nonimmigrant's interactions with law enforcement or other agencies or departments, without necessarily looking at the immigration process.

The service isn't a new data storage system, according to the filing, because it doesn't store data. It aggregates information from other systems and displays it temporarily, in read-only format. The idea is to give a holistic view of data already stored on individuals in various DHS, federal agency and even some non-federal and private-sector systems that otherwise would take multiple queries to obtain.

The system mitigates false positives through the use of what the privacy report calls "a strong matching algorithm" to correlate individual names with alien registration numbers and other data points.

Among the DHS agency databases accessed by PCQS are Customs and Border Protection's Treasury Enforcement Communication Systems, used by officers at the border to assist with screening and determinations regarding admissibility of arriving persons; CBP's Automated Targeting System-Passenger; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Enforcement Integrated Database.

Non-federal databases queried by the system include the American  Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators Network Service, while extra-agency networks accessed includes the State Department's Consular Consolidated Database.

Along with a variety of federal immigration background checks, the service helps with E-Verify reviews for employers determining the immigration status of employees, immigration fraud checks by USCIS and CBP and ICE deportation investigations.  It also provides  a way for DHS National Protection and Programming Directorate's Office of Biometric Identification to help state and local governments identify and check on people they may encounter and consider a threat.

This article originally appeared on FCW, a sister site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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