Border Security:

Continued Weaknesses in Screening Entrants into the United States

GAO-06-976T: Published: Aug 2, 2006. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 2006.

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Gregory D. Kutz
(202) 512-9505


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Currently, U.S. citizens are not required to present a passport when entering the United States from countries in the Western Hemisphere. However, U.S. citizens are required to establish citizenship to a CBP officer's satisfaction. On its Web site, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) advises U.S. citizens that an officer may ask for identification documents as proof of citizenship, including birth certificates or baptismal records and a photo identification document. In 2003, we testified that CBP officers were not readily capable of identifying whether individuals seeking entry into the United States were using counterfeit identification to prove citizenship. Specifically, our agents were able to easily enter the United States from Canada and Mexico using fictitious names and counterfeit driver's licenses and birth certificates. Later in 2003 and 2004, we continued to be able to successfully enter the United States using counterfeit identification at land border crossings, but were denied entry on one occasion. Because of Congress's concerns that these weaknesses could possibly be exploited by terrorists or others involved in criminal activity, Congress requested that we assess the current status of security at the nation's borders. Specifically, Congress requested that we conduct a follow-up investigation to determine whether the vulnerabilities exposed in our prior work continue to exist.

Agents successfully entered the United States using fictitious driver's licenses and other bogus documentation through nine land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders. CBP officers never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents presented at any of the nine crossings. On three occasions--in California, Texas, and Arizona--agents crossed the border on foot. At two of these locations--Texas and Arizona--CBP allowed the agents entry into the United States without asking for or inspecting any identification documents. After completing our investigation, we briefed officials from CBP on June 9, 2006. CBP agreed that its officers are not able to identify all forms of counterfeit identification presented at land border crossings and fully supports a new initiative that will require all travelers to present a passport before entering the United States. We did not assess whether this initiative would be effective in preventing terrorists from entering the United States or whether it would fully address the vulnerabilites shown by our work.

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