CNMI Immigration and Border Control Databases

GAO-10-345R: Published: Feb 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Feb 16, 2010.

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Under the terms of its 1976 Covenant with the United States, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) administered its own immigration systems from 1978 to 2009. The 2008 Consolidated Natural Resources Act called for the establishment of a transition program, to phase in U.S. immigration law in the CNMI and to phase out the CNMI's current program for non-U.S. citizen (noncitizen) foreign workers; implementation of the transition program began on November 28, 2009. The act requires, among other things, that the CNMI government provide the Secretary of Homeland Security all Commonwealth immigration records, or other information that the Secretary deems necessary, to assist in the implementation of the transition program. The CNMI government has tracked the immigration status of foreign residents with two databases, the Labor and Immigration Identification and Documentation System and the Labor Information Data System. A third database, the Border Management System, tracks visitor arrivals and departures. We were asked to describe (1) the history and key attributes of the three databases and (2) the status of these databases during the transition to federal control of CNMI immigration. To address these objectives, GAO incorporated information from our prior work and continuing work and reviewed relevant documents from the CNMI government and from the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Interior (DOI).

The CNMI developed the Labor and Immigration Identification and Documentation System (LIIDS) as an administrative data system to track information on individuals who entered the CNMI for employment and other purposes. LIIDS contained biographical, employment, and arrival and scheduled departure data on all foreign workers in the CNMI. In 2007, the CNMI government revised its foreign worker program and the CNMI Department of Labor undertook an automation project to replace LIIDS with the Labor Information Data System (LIDS). In 2001, the CNMI government purchased and implemented the Border Management System (BMS), an automated arrivals and departures database containing data from passports, visas, alerts, and permissions (extensions of stay, changes of status, or other modifications of entry conditions) as applicable for all persons entering the CNMI. BMS data is collected primarily through passport readers when persons enter or exit the CNMI at the Commonwealth's airports and seaports. The LIDS and BMS databases have remained in the CNMI's control during the CNMI's transition to U.S. immigration law, and as of January 2010, the U.S. government's direct access to information in these databases had not yet been established. Since the United States assumed control of immigration and border security in the CNMI on November 28, 2009, the CNMI government has continued to maintain and update LIDS and BMS. CNMI Customs officers now collect information to update BMS with data on entries and departures from Commonwealth airports and seaports. Computers and passport readers, previously used by CNMI immigration, have been installed at airport customs inspection stations, and data from customs declaration forms are used to update the system. CNMI Customs officers also update BMS by gathering information from travelers during departure checks that take place prior to TSA security screening.

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