By COLLEEN LONG
WASHINGTON (AP) — One physician appointed to examine immigrants was convicted of solicitation of capital murder because he tried to hire a hit man to kill a dissatisfied patient in Houston. Another had a history of sexual misconduct and exploitation of female patients. And a third was disciplined for allowing her staff to dilute vaccines.
These were the findings of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog. It found the doctors appointed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services were not properly vetted — putting immigrants at risk of abuse, and potentially exposing U.S. citizens to contagious disease.
There were no specific cases highlighted where an immigrant was abused, or indication that someone with an illness was allowed into the country.
The physicians, known as civil surgeons, review medical records and examine immigrants seeking lawful permanent resident status.
The watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General, made eight recommendations, including stricter eligibility requirements and better training for surgeons. USCIS officials concurred and said they will work on adopting the suggestions.
The report, released Friday, found 132 of the 5,569 active civil surgeons could pose a health or safety risk to immigrants. Eleven of them were prevented from participating in federal health care programs for health care fraud, patient abuse or other reasons.
The report found that state medical boards disciplined 121 of more than 5,000 civil surgeons for offenses ranging from felony convictions to negligent conduct in patient care and treatment.
“Although some disciplinary conduct may have occurred years ago, the nature of the offense may continue to render these physicians a risk to those applying for immigration benefits,” the report found.
Part of the issue is that USCIS doesn’t require medical board disciplinary history before designating physicians as civil surgeons, the report found.
In addition, civil surgeons are not properly reviewing medical files of those who are seeking lawful permanent resident status, the report found. It could mean that citizens are exposed to contagions, the report found.
USCIS officials said in a response to the report that they would evaluate eligibility requirements, establish better training and create better quality-control reviews. Officials were also going back through thousands of active civil surgeons to double-check their records.
“USCIS remains committed to the integrity of our lawful immigration system, and the adjustment of status of an individual to a permanent resident is a core component of the immigration system,” the agency said in a letter to the inspector general. “USCIS agrees with the OIG that further actions are needed to enhance the medical admissibility screening process and is already taking these actions.”