Land Border Ports of Entry:

Vulnerabilities and Inefficiencies in the Inspections Process

GAO-03-1084R: Published: Aug 18, 2003. Publicly Released: Aug 18, 2003.

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Richard M. Stana
(202) 512-8816


Office of Public Affairs
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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. In response, we have evaluated immigration-related inspections at land border Ports of Entry (POE) 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 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 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.

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.

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