Combating Alien Smuggling: Opportunities Exist to Improve the Federal Response

GAO-05-305 Published: May 27, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 29, 2005.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights

Globally, alien smuggling generates billions of dollars in illicit revenues annually and poses a threat to the nation's security. Creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2003 has provided an opportunity to use financial investigative techniques to combat alien smugglers by targeting and seizing their monetary assets. For instance, the composition of DHS's largest investigative component--U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)--includes the legacy Customs Service, which has extensive experience with money laundering and other financial crimes. Another DHS component, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has primary responsibility for interdictions between ports of entry. In summer 2003, ICE announced that it was developing a national strategy for combating alien smuggling. Among other objectives, GAO determined the implementation status of the strategy and investigative results in terms of convictions and seized assets.

Skip to Recommendations


Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security To enhance the federal response to alien smuggling, the Secretary of Homeland Security should establish a cost-effective mechanism for tracking the number and results of referrals by CBP to ICE.
Closed – Not Implemented
In its response letter (dated May 1, 2006), DHS reported the following: "A working group of information technology experts was established to develop a new data processing system to be utilized by ICE and CBP/OBP. This project is a joint venture with representatives from both ICE and CBP/OBP providing input and expertise. This new data system, which is currently in the early planning stage, will contain data entry fields that will allow CBP/OBP to generate and distribute lead information directly to ICE. ICE will have the ability to update the status of the lead information and provide a final disposition. The new system will create a cost effective mechanism for tracking the number and results of referrals by CBP/OBP to ICE." More recently, in 2009, GAO's ongoing alien smuggling work under code 440757 determined that such a system has not been implemented.
Department of Justice To enhance the federal response to alien smuggling, the Attorney General, in collaboration with the Secretary of Homeland Security, should consider developing and submitting to Congress a legislative proposal, with appropriate justification, for amending the civil forfeiture authority for real property used to facilitate the smuggling of aliens.
Closed – Implemented
In 2006, the Department of Justice implemented the recommendation by submitting to Congress a legislative proposal. The proposed language was included in a House Bill (HR 4437) and a Senate bill (S 2611). Both bills provided that any real or personal property used to commit or facilitate the commission of an alien smuggling offense in violation of 8 U.S.C. 1324 is subject to civil forfeiture;the forfeiture provision also includes the gross proceeds and any property traceable to such proceeds. However, even though the Department of Justice implemented GAO's recommendation, Congress did not enact the comprehensive immigration reform bill, which contained the subject forfeiture provision.

Full Report