REPORT: Feds Hire Doctors with Criminal Records to Examine Immigrants

By Alfonso Serrano Sep 26, 2018

According to a blistering report released by the internal watchdog of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is not properly vetting the physicians it hires to conduct medical examinations, which places immigrants at risk for abuse.

USCIS hired a Georgia doctor with a felony conviction for solicitation of capital murder; he tried to hire a hitman to kill a disgruntled patient. Another physician had a history of professional sexual misconduct and exploitation of female patients. A third was disciplined by the Medical Board of California for allowing her assistants to dilute mumps and measles vaccines, and for administering injections with defective needles.

"USCIS is not properly vetting the physicians it designates to conduct required medical examinations of these foreign nationals, and it has designated physicians with a history of patient abuse or a criminal record," says the report, released Friday (September 21) by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). "This is occurring because USCIS does not have policies to ensure only suitable physicians are designated."

Besides placing immigrants of undocumented status at risk for abuse, the USCIS hiring defects could be exposing the United States population to contagious health conditions.

Part of the problem, according to the report, stems from faulty policies that do not ensure that only suitable physicians are hired. Plus, USCIS officers are not adequately trained to review medical forms filled out by immigrants who want to transition from temporary status to lawful permanent status.

OIG, for example, found that 14 percent of the 1,337 civil surgeon designations by USCIS between March 2014 and June 2017 lacked "evidence" to support the USCIS decisions. Insufficient evidence in these cases included incomplete forms and inadequate proof of work authorization and the required four years of professional experience. 

In total, the report found that 132 of the 5,569 active civil surgeons could pose health or safety risks to immigrants looking to adjust their status.

The OIG report concludes with several recommendations aimed at improved USCIS physician selection and oversight. They include that regulatory and policy chiefs at USCIS develop stricter ineligibility requirements for civil surgeons—standards that sync with those used by the Department of Health and Human Services. A training program for USCIS personnel tasked with vetting applications would also help filter out unqualified physicians, according to the report.