Key Issues > Border Security and Immigration
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Border Security and Immigration

Federal agencies spend billions of dollars each year securing the nation’s borders and facilitating lawful immigration and travel—but they could improve how they manage and implement such activities.

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The federal government is responsible for conducting a number activities to protect U.S. borders and enforce immigration policies, mainly through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice. However, both departments could improve how they manage these activities.

Border security investments

Within DHS, U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol is responsible for securing U.S. borders between ports of entry.

Selected Designs of Pedestrian Fencing on the Southwest Border

Processing, care, and custody

CBP detains individuals and families in short-term holding facilities to complete processing, collect information, and determine the next appropriate course of action. DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) provides long-term detention of individuals and families.

  • CBP policy requires officers and agents to track instances in which noncitizen children are separated from their parents. However, Border Patrol has not maintained complete and accurate information on family separations. ICE also does not systematically record information about family separations in its data system.
  • CBP developed health screening policies to ensure that detainees receive medical care. However, CBP has not consistently implemented these policies, so some children were not given health screenings. CBP also lacks reliable data on deaths of individuals in its custody, and did not consistently report these data to Congress as directed.

Contracted Medical Provider Office at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Facility

Immigration detention

ICE is required to provide safe, secure, and humane confinement in immigration detention facilities. These facilities hold tens of thousands of foreign nationals each day.

  • ICE and other DHS agencies oversee compliance with detention facility standards and receive complaints from detainees. However, ICE does not comprehensively analyze inspection or complaint information to identify trends. ICE also does not have reasonable assurance that all complaints are addressed.
  • ICE has a multi-billion dollar budget to operate the immigration detention system. To ensure that it is using these funds effectively, it should improve the cost estimates it uses in its annual budget requests for immigration detention.

Immigration benefits

DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) adjudicates foreign nationals’ applications for immigration benefits. These benefits include humanitarian protections such as asylum (for those who have been persecuted or fear persecution on protected grounds) and temporary protected status (for those whose home countries have conditions that prevent safe return).

  • Granting asylum to an individual with a fraudulent claim jeopardizes the integrity of the asylum system. However, USCIS has limited capabilities to detect asylum fraud. For example, USCIS has not conducted regular fraud assessments to help ensure that its fraud prevention controls are adequate.
  • Noncitizens apprehended by DHS may be removed from the country without an immigration hearing unless they express an intent to apply for asylum or fear persecution or torture. Such “fear claims” are referred to USCIS for screening, but USCIS needs to strengthen its oversight of these screenings and the data it maintains on them.
  • Temporary protected status permits eligible foreign nationals to temporarily stay and work in the United States. Work authorization lasts as long as the status, but the documents proving it can expire. DHS gives extensions and has notified people about them via letter. However, not all of DHS’s guidance tells employers that these letters are acceptable proof of authorization, and some people have reportedly lost their jobs over this.

Immigration courts

The Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) conducts immigration court proceedings.

  • EOIR reports that is has a backlog of over a million immigration cases, which means that some individuals wait years to have their cases heard. Taking steps to improve its workforce planning, hiring, and technology utilization could help EOIR address its case backlog.
  • EOIR judges adjudicate ungranted asylum claims from USCIS, as well as asylum claims raised during removal proceedings in immigration court. But analysis of hundreds of thousands of asylum applications showed significant variation in case outcomes, both over time and across immigration courts and judges.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.


Asylum Processing and FraudWednesday, December 2, 2015
Southwest Border SecurityMonday, August 6, 2018
  • portrait of Rebecca Gambler
    • Rebecca Gambler
    • Director, Homeland Security and Justice
    • (202) 512-8777