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Southwest Border: CBP Oversees Short-Term Custody Standards, but Border Patrol Could Better Monitor Care of At-Risk Individuals

GAO-22-105321 Published: Sep 28, 2022. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has seen a significant increase in the number of individuals they apprehend between U.S. ports of entry along the southwest border. This has resulted in overcrowding and difficult humanitarian conditions in its facilities.

CBP monitors the care of individuals in its custody in various ways. For example, staff are required to conduct and document welfare checks every 15 minutes for individuals who are sick or injured. However, Border Patrol (a part of CBP) does not have a mechanism to verify that staff have done so across field locations.

We recommended that Border Patrol implement such a mechanism.

U.S. Border Patrol's Apprehensions along the Southwest Border from FYs 2019 through 2021

A map of U.S. southwest border states and the number of apprehensions in each state.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

In October 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued its National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention and Search (TEDS). The standards govern how CBP—including the Office of Field Operations (OFO) and U.S. Border Patrol—should transport, escort, detain, or search individuals in short-term custody. They also govern how CBP should handle personal property and provide care for at-risk individuals, among other things.

Hold Rooms in U.S. Border Patrol's Rio Grande Valley Sector

HL_5 - 105321

CBP uses various mechanisms, at multiple levels of the agency, to monitor the care of individuals in short-term custody and help ensure that CBP personnel are adhering to TEDS. For example, staff at OFO ports of entry and Border Patrol stations—where holding facilities are located—are responsible for performing routine custodial actions. This includes providing meals and conducting periodic welfare checks of those in its custody. These staff also are to use electronic systems to record and manage data of their monitoring activities for individuals in custody. Officials at the OFO field office, Border Patrol sector, and headquarters levels also periodically conduct inspections of facilities and are responsible for monitoring custodial action data.

CBP guidance on TEDS requires staff to conduct welfare checks every 15 minutes for individuals who are sick or injured. It also calls for CBP to develop a method to ensure compliance with those requirements. However, Border Patrol does not have a mechanism to ensure compliance. Border Patrol officials stated that they believe the agency is meeting the intent of the requirements through activities that occur at the field-level. However, there is no agency-wide mechanism to verify that agents have conducted and recorded the required checks across field locations. Without such a mechanism, Border Patrol does not have insights across the agency on its compliance with the required welfare checks for individuals who face health risks.

Why GAO Did This Study

In recent years, CBP has experienced a significant increase in the number of individuals encountered at or apprehended between U.S. ports of entry along the southwest border. This has resulted in overcrowding and difficult humanitarian conditions in its facilities. According to CBP data, the agency encountered or apprehended about 1.73 million individuals in fiscal year 2021 along the southwest border.

The 2021 House Appropriations Committee Report for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) includes a provision for GAO to review CBP processes for overseeing its personnel's adherence to TEDS. This report addresses the extent to which CBP monitors adherence to its TEDS standards, among other objectives.

GAO reviewed CBP documentation including the TEDS standards and CBP's 2019 memo on monitoring requirements for certain at-risk populations. GAO also interviewed DHS and CBP officials in headquarters and at 15 field locations selected based on a mix of criteria including geographic location and numbers of encounters or apprehensions.

Recommendations

GAO recommends that Border Patrol develop and implement a mechanism to monitor the agency's compliance with welfare check requirements for certain at-risk individuals in custody. DHS concurred with this recommendation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
U.S. Border Patrol The Chief of the Border Patrol should develop and implement a mechanism to monitor the agency's compliance with welfare check requirements for certain at-risk individuals in custody (Recommendation 1).
Closed – Implemented
In September 2022, we reported that U.S. Border Patrol (Border Patrol) did not have a mechanism to monitor compliance with 15-minute welfare checks for at-risk individuals in custody, as required by CBP policy. Consequently, we recommended that Border Patrol develop and implement a mechanism for monitoring compliance with this welfare check requirement for at-risk individuals. In response, Border Patrol concurred with our recommendation and has developed and implemented a mechanism to monitor compliance with these requirements. Specifically, Border Patrol modified its database that collects biographic, encounter and biometric data of individuals encountered by Border Patrol agents to generate reports that show whether at-risk individuals are receiving these welfare checks, as required by policy. Border Patrol began sending quarterly reminders to its field locations that describe these monitoring requirements and in January 2023, Border Patrol created its first quarterly sector reports on compliance with welfare check requirements for the at-risk population in custody nationwide. Since then, Border Patrol has used these reports to notify sectors of any deficiencies in monitoring the at-risk population. In addition to sending out quarterly policy reminders and compliance reports to sectors, Border Patrol requires sectors to report on actions taken to address deficiencies. For example, one sector advised agents to set timers to help remind them to conduct welfare checks and another noted that a second agent would confirm that the checks are completed within the 15-minute timeframe. These actions to develop and implement a mechanism to monitor Border Patrol's compliance with 15-minute welfare checks for at-risk individuals in custody should help ensure that at-risk individuals held within its custody are receiving the appropriate care. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

Full Report

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Topics

Border controlBorder patrolDetention facilitiesHomeland securityImmigration detentionInternal controlsPorts of entryCompliance oversightSelf-inspection programSexual abuse