Illegal Immigration:

Southwest Border Strategy Results Inconclusive; More Evaluation Needed

GGD-98-21: Published: Dec 11, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 11, 1997.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Attorney General's strategy to deter illegal entry into the United States along the southwest border, focusing on: (1) what the strategy calls for; (2) actions taken to implement the strategy along the southwest border; (3) whether available data confirm the strategy's hypotheses, with respect to expected initial results from the strategy's implementation along the southwest border; and (4) the types of indicators that would be needed to evaluate the strategy.

GAO noted that: (1) to carry out the priority to strengthen the detection of and deterrence to illegal entry along the border, the Attorney General's strategy called for the Border Patrol to: (a) allocate additional Border Patrol resources in a four-phased approach starting first with the areas of highest known illegal activity; (b) make maximum use of physical barriers; (c) increase the proportion of time Border Patrol agents spend on border enforcement activities; and (d) identify the appropriate mix of technology, equipment, and personnel needed for the Border Patrol; (2) since the strategy was issued in 1994, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has made progress in implementing some, but not all, aspects of the strategy; (3) at the southwest border land ports of entry, INS has added about 800 inspector positions since fiscal year 1994, increasing its on-board strength to about 1,300; (4) INS and other data indicate that some of the initial results of the strategy's implementation along the southwest border correspond with the expected results stated in the strategy; (5) however, sufficient data were not available for GAO to determine whether other expected results have occurred; (6) INS data indicated that, as a percentage of total apprehensions along the southwest border, apprehensions of illegal aliens have decreased in the two sectors that in 1993 accounted for the most apprehensions and received the first influx of new resources--San Diego and El Paso; (7) the Attorney General's strategy for deterring illegal entry across the southwest border envisions three distinct but related results: (a) fewer aliens will be able to cross the border illegally; (b) fewer aliens will try to illegally immigrate into the United States; and (c) the number of illegal aliens in the United States will decrease; (8) evaluating the overall effectiveness of the strategy for deterring illegal entry would require a formal, rigorous plan for: (a) collecting and analyzing consistent and reliable data on several different indicators related to the three expected results from the strategy; and (b) examining their interrelationships; and (9) although developing a formal evaluation plan and implementing a rigorous and comprehensive evaluation of the strategy may prove to be both difficult and potentially costly, without such an evaluation the Attorney General and Congress will have no way of knowing whether the billions of dollars invested in reducing illegal immigration have produced the intended results.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In February 2002, INS' Office of Policy and Planning developed a plan for evaluating the effects of its southwest border strategy. The plan describes numerous indicators that INS planned to use, and for each indicator, what data would be collected and the mechanism for collecting it, controls to ensure data accuracy, the expected outcome for each indicator if the expected result was being achieved, and procedures for analyzing the data.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should develop and implement a plan for a formal, cost-effective, comprehensive, systematic evaluation of the strategy to deter illegal entry across the southwest border. This plan should describe: (1) the indicators that would be required for the evaluation; (2) the data that need to be collected; (3) mechanisms for collecting the data; (4) controls intended to ensure accuracy of the data collected; (5) expected relationships among the indicators; and (6) procedures for analyzing the data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


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