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^Accountability * Integrity * Reliability 



G A O 



United States General Accounting Office 
Washington, DC 20548 



August 18, 2003 

The Honorable Robert C. Bonner 

Commissioner, Bureau of Customs and Border Protection 
Department of Homeland Security 

Subject: Land Border Ports of Entry: Vulnerabilities and Inefficiencies in the 
Inspections Process 

Dear Mr. Bonner: 

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 mandates 
that we track, monitor, and evaluate the Attorney General's strategy to deter illegal 
entry and report our findings to Congress. 1 In response, we have evaluated 
immigration-related inspections at land border POEs and made recommendations 
regarding (1) the integrity of the inspections process; (2) the efficiency and 
effectiveness of inspections-related port operations; and (3) the collection, analysis, 
and use of intelligence information. Due to your Bureau's concern that the public 
release of our detailed findings could compromise law enforcement operations, our 
report is restricted to Limited Official Use. 

This letter is intended to summarize our overall findings and confirm your agreement 
to take action to address vulnerabilities and inefficiencies in the inspections process. 
Most of our work was conducted before the Department of Justice's Immigration and 
Naturalization Service (INS) and the Department of the Treasury's Customs Service 
were merged into the newly created Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 
in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, the issues we address 
remain relevant as DHS merges the functions previously performed by the two 
agencies and implements major changes to its border inspections process. 

In performing our review, we visited 15 land border POEs — 6 along the southern 
border and 9 along the northern border. At these ports we met with INS and Customs 
Port Directors, INS intelligence officers, and INS training officers. We interviewed 
INS inspectors in groups, involving a total of 82 inspectors. We also observed more 
than 100 INS and Customs inspectors conduct inspections. In addition, we met with 
INS District Office and Customs Management Center officials. At headquarters, we 
met with INS officials responsible for the inspections program, field operations, and 
intelligence; Customs officials responsible for passenger programs; and DHS officials 
when making contacts after March 1, 2003. We also spoke with officials from CBP, 
the Immigration Officer Academy, and the Forensic Document Laboratory about 
issues related to immigration inspector training. We reviewed INS and Customs 



'P. L. 104-208, div. C, § 110, 8 U.S.C. 1103 note. 



GAO-03-1084R Land Border Ports of Entry 



Inspections Program policies and procedures, and memoranda issued after 
September 11, 2001; related studies and reports; and relevant laws and regulations. 
We conducted our work between July 2002 and May 2003 in accordance with 
generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Results in Brief 

Our observations and interviews at 15 land border POEs identified several 
vulnerabilities in the integrity of the inspections process, which raise the risk of 
unlawful entry. For example, inspectors can experience difficulties in verifying the 
identity of travelers, traveler inspections were not always done consistently and 
according to policy, and inspectors did not always receive the training they needed. 

Inspections-related port operations were hampered by inefficiencies related to 
technology and equipment. Inspectors faced cumbersome procedures in order to 
access data systems, and the lack of automation for routine data collection cost time 
and resources. Furthermore, inspectors lacked a standard issue of equipment, which 
could create operational inefficiencies. On a positive note, planned expansion of 
dedicated commuter lanes for travelers determined to be low risk will increase 
efficiency and give inspectors more time to focus on travelers whose risk is 
unknown. 

Regarding the collection, analysis, and use of intelligence information, lack of time 
and training impedes intelligence development and use. In addition, there was no 
structure in place to support the analysis and use of intelligence information in the 
field, despite the fact that INS and others have long recognized this as a need. Given 
the threat of terrorism confronting the country, having and using intelligence 
information effectively at land border POEs has never been more important. 

We recommended actions to improve inspector training and equipment and develop a 
program to facilitate the collection, analysis, and use of intelligence information in 
the field. CBP officials generally concurred with our findings and described actions 
that it planned to take to address both our findings and recommendations. 

Background 

Most travelers enter the United States through the nation's 166 land border POEs. 
According to INS data, of the estimated 453 million inspections that occurred in 2002, 
about 363 million, or 80 percent, occurred at land border POEs. 2 About two-thirds of 
these inspections involved aliens and about one-third involved returning U.S. citizens. 
The vast majority of travelers who cross at land POEs arrive by vehicle, although a 
small percentage arrive on foot or by bus, mainly through southern border ports. 

The purpose of the immigration-related portion of the inspections process is to 
determine if the person is a U.S. citizen or alien, and if an alien, whether the alien is 
entitled to enter the United States. 3 The great majority of persons arriving at land 



2 INS Performance and Analysis System. We did not assess the reliability of the data since the 
information is presented for background purposes. 

3 While our work focused on how inspectors determined the admissibility of persons, inspectors are 
also responsible for determining whether travelers could be violating criminal laws (such as the 



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GAO-03-1084R Land Border Ports of Entry 



POEs are residents of the border area who cross frequently and are familiar with U.S. 
entry requirements. Consequently, a screening procedure called primary inspection 
has been established to rapidly inspect travelers and identify those who are readily 
admissible. In general, inspectors are to question travelers about their nationality 
and purpose of their visit and review any travel documents the traveler may be 
required to present. Typically, primary inspections are conducted in less than 1 
minute. Of the about 363 million persons inspected at land border POEs in 2002, 
about 354 million (98 percent) were admitted after a primary inspection. 

Travelers whose admissibility cannot be readily determined, about 9 million in 2002, 
are referred for a more intensive, or secondary, inspection. A secondary inspection 
consists of a more detailed review of travel documents and belongings; in-depth 
questioning by an inspector; and multiple computer checks to verify specific 
corroborating information, such as the traveler's stated identity. Depending on the 
results of the secondary inspection, the traveler could, among other outcomes, be 
admitted for entry, denied admission, allowed to return to the country of origin 
voluntarily, or detained while admissibility is determined in formal proceedings. 

Because of the large volume of traffic at POEs, INS established dedicated commuter 
lanes to expedite the inspection of low-risk travelers. As of February 2003, dedicated 
commuter lanes had a total enrollment of about 80,000 persons. Along the southern 
border, commuter lanes are at 3 POEs-San Ysidro and Otay Mesa in California and 
Stanton Street Bridge in El Paso, Texas. Along the northern border, commuter lanes 
are located at 7 POEs-Pacific Highway, Point Roberts, and Peace Arch Crossing in 
Washington; Blue Water Bridge, Detroit Tunnel, and the Ambassador Bridge in 
Michigan; and Peace Bridge in New York. Travelers enrolled in these commuter lane 
programs have been prescreened through background checks and determined to 
pose a low risk to border security. 

The inspections process at the nation's land borders will likely undergo significant 
changes in the near future. A series of laws enacted between 1996 and 2002 required 
the Attorney General to develop an automated entry and exit system that would 
create a record for every alien arriving in the United States and match it with a record 
when the alien departs. The system is to be in place at all air and sea ports by 
December 31, 2003, at the 50 busiest land border ports by the end of 2004, and at all 
land border ports by the end of 2005. On April 29, 2003, the Secretary of Homeland 
Security announced plans for the new U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator 
Technology (US-VISIT) system. The system is to use biometric identifiers, such as 
photographs, fingerprints, or iris scans, to build an electronic check in/check out 
system for people coming to the United States to work, study, or visit. The US- VISIT 
system is intended to address the congressional requirements of the automated entry 
and exit system. 

DHS Needs to Address Vulnerabilities and Inefficiencies in the Inspections 
Process 

Our visits to various ports, conducted in the months leading up to the establishment 
of DHS, identified issues affecting the integrity of the inspections process, 
deficiencies and inefficiencies in technology and equipment, and deficiencies in field 



smuggling of narcotics) and are in compliance with other laws related to importing products and 
animals. 

Page 3 GAO-03-1084R Land Border Ports of Entry 



level operations to collect, analyze, and use intelligence information. Persons seeking 
to illegally enter the United States may exploit weaknesses in any of these areas. 
Given the threat of terrorism against the country, it is particularly important that 
inspectors at land border POEs have the support they need to collect, analyze, and 
use intelligence information. 

Officials we interviewed and studies we reviewed offered various options for 
addressing some of the vulnerabilities discussed in our report. DHS has work groups 
in place to examine many of these vulnerabilities, but it must take swift action to 
address them, given the threats to the nation. As a newly established department, 
DHS is tasked with expeditiously integrating multiple agencies and units into a 
cohesive and effective organization. The challenges before it are many, but resolving 
the issues we raised should help place DHS in a better position to protect the nation 
from the entry of unlawful travelers at land border POEs. 



In addition to the Department of Homeland Security, we are sending copies of this 
report to the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary, the House Select 
Committee on Homeland Security, the Department of State, and other interested 
parties. We will also make copies available to others upon request. In addition, the 
report will be available at no charge on GAO's Web site at http ://www. gao .gov . If you or 
your staff have any questions about this report, please call me at (202) 512-8777 or 
Michael P. Dino, Assistant Director, at (213) 830-1150. 

Sincerely yours, 




Richard M. Stana 

Director, Homeland Security and Justice Issues 



(440239) 



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GAO-03-1084R Land Border Ports of Entry 



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