The federal government is responsible for conducting a number of activities to protect U.S. borders and enforce immigration laws, mainly through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its agencies, as well as the Department of Justice (DOJ). However, there are a number of areas in which these agencies can improve how they manage and implement these activities, on which they spend billions of dollars each year.
- DHS’s U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for securing U.S. borders at and between ports of entry—which includes seizing illicit drugs. CBP personnel follow detailed processes for seizing illicit drugs, including recording data on drug type and how it was concealed. However, CBP hasn't assessed if the drug type categories in its systems adequately reflect drug smuggling scenarios that officers and agents confront. Also, officers and agents are trained on drug seizures at their respective academies and post-academy programs, but CBP hasn't evaluated post-academy training.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection Seizure of Drugs Found in a Toolbox
- Within CBP, U.S. Border Patrol operates over 100 immigration checkpoints along U.S. borders where agents screen vehicles to identify noncitizens who are potentially removable; they may also enforce U.S. criminal law. Agents are required to collect data on checkpoint activity, including how many smuggled people are apprehended and how many drug seizures were made using canines. However, agents at checkpoints inconsistently documented this data, which makes oversight of these checkpoints difficult.
Border Patrol Checkpoint Canine Team Inspects a Vehicle
- CBP and other DHS agencies collect information on noncitizen family members who are apprehended together at the southwest border. Each agency collects the information it needs, but does not always consider the information needed by other agencies. Without identifying and sharing this information, DHS risks removing individuals from the country who may be eligible for relief or protection based on their family relationships.
- CBP also identifies and takes custody of noncitizen individuals and families unlawfully entering the U.S. CBP may place such individuals in short-term holding facilities to complete processing, collect information, and determine the next appropriate course of action. CBP has developed health screening policies to ensure that those in its custody receive medical care. However, CBP has not consistently overseen these policies, so some children were not given health screenings.
- DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for immigration enforcement in the U.S. interior. This includes making arrests and providing safe confinement of noncitizens in detention facilities. ICE obtains immigration detention space through contracts and agreements, but has not consistently followed its process for obtaining new space. Further, ICE does not have a strategic approach for using guaranteed minimum payments in its contracts—i.e., paying for beds regardless of use—and spent millions of dollars a month on unused detention space.
- ICE and other DHS agencies oversee compliance with standards at immigration detention facilities, and receive complaints from detainees. However, ICE doesn't comprehensively analyze inspection or complaint information to identify trends. It also doesn't have reasonable assurance that all complaints are addressed.
- ICE is also responsible for monitoring noncitizens it releases into the community during their immigration court proceedings, and has increasingly used its Alternatives to Detention program to do so. The program offers ICE options for monitoring people (e.g., GPS or home visits) to help ensure compliance with release requirements, such as appearing in court. ICE uses a $2.2 billion contract to administer this program, but it doesn't fully assess how the program is working or ensure that the contractor meets standards.
- DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes millions of applications and petitions for immigration benefits each year from noncitizens who want to visit or live in the country, obtain work authorization, or become U.S. citizens. USCIS’s pending caseload has increased by 85% in recent years due to factors like policy changes, longer forms, staffing issues, and delays from COVID-19. Although USCIS has several plans to address this backlog, it has not implemented them or identified necessary resources.
- The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) conducts immigration court removal proceedings. EOIR has a backlog of well over a million immigration cases, which means that some individuals wait years to have their cases heard. Taking steps to improve its workforce planning would better position EOIR to address its staffing needs and the case backlog.
Alternatives to Detention: ICE Needs to Better Assess Program Performance and Improve Contract Oversight
Border Patrol: Actions Needed to Improve Checkpoint Oversight and Data
Border Security: CBP Could Improve How It Categorizes Drug Seizure Data and Evaluates Training
Southwest Border: CBP Should Improve Data Collection, Reporting, and Evaluation for the Missing Migrant Program
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: Actions Needed to Address Pending Caseload
COVID-19: Improvements Needed in Guidance and Stakeholder Engagement for Immigration Courts
Immigration Enforcement: ICE Can Further Enhance Its Planning and Oversight of State and Local Agreements
Immigration Detention: Actions Needed to Improve Planning, Documentation, and Oversight of Detention Facility Contracts
Immigration Detention: ICE Should Enhance Its Use of Facility Oversight Data and Management of Detainee Complaints
Southwest Border: CBP Needs to Increase Oversight of Funds, Medical Care, and Reporting of Deaths
Southwest Border: Actions Needed to Improve DHS Processing of Families and Coordination between DHS and HHS