oversight

Homeland Security: Challenges to Implementing the Immigration Interior Enforcement Strategy

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-04-10.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Immigration,
                             Border Security and Claims, Committee
                             on the Judiciary, House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Thursday, April 10, 2003     HOMELAND SECURITY
                             Challenges to Implementing
                             the Immigration Interior
                             Enforcement Strategy
                             Statement of Richard M. Stana, Director
                             Homeland Security and Justice




GAO-03-660T
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

I am pleased to be here today to discuss the Department of Homeland
Security’s (DHS) Immigration Interior Enforcement Strategy, whose
implementation is now the responsibility of the Bureau of Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (BICE). As you know, this strategy was originally
created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). This
statement discusses the interior enforcement strategy and selected issues
pertaining to its implementation and management.

In the 1990s, INS developed a strategy to control illegal immigration across
the U.S. border and a strategy to address enforcement priorities within the
country’s interior. In 1994, INS’s Border Patrol issued a strategy to deter
illegal entry. The strategy called for “prevention through deterrence”; that
is, to raise the risk of being apprehended for illegal aliens to a point where
they would consider it futile to try to enter. The plan called for targeting
resources in a phased approach, starting first with the areas of greatest
illegal activity. In 1999, the INS issued its interior enforcement strategy
designed to deter illegal immigration, prevent immigration-related crimes,
and remove those illegally in the United States. Historically, Congress and
INS have devoted over five times more resources in terms of staff and
budget on border enforcement than on interior enforcement.

In my statement today, I make the following points:

•   INS’s interior enforcement strategy was designed to address (1) the
    detention and removal of criminal aliens, (2) the dismantling and
    diminishing of alien smuggling operations, (3) community complaints
    about illegal immigration, (4) immigration benefit and document fraud,
    and (5) employers’ access to undocumented workers. These
    components remain in the BICE strategy.

•   INS faced numerous challenges in implementing the strategy. For
    example, INS lacked reliable data to determine staff needs, reliable
    information technology, clear and consistent guidelines and procedures
    for working-level staff, effective collaboration and coordination within
    INS and with other agencies, and appropriate performance measures to
    help assess program results. As BICE assumes responsibility for
    strategy implementation, it should consider how to address these
    challenges by improving resource allocation, information technology,
    program guidance, and performance measurement.




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•   The creation of DHS has focused attention on other challenges to
    implementing the strategy. For example, BICE needs to coordinate and
    collaborate with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
    (BCIS) for the timely and proper adjudication of benefit applications,
    and with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) to
    assist in antismuggling investigations and sharing intelligence. In
    addition, BICE needs to assure that training and internal controls are
    sufficient to govern investigators’ antiterrorism activities when dealing
    with citizens and aliens.

My testimony today is based primarily on the results of work that we have
completed in recent years, namely, our February 1999 testimony on INS’s
efforts to identify and remove criminal aliens,1 our April 1999 report on
INS’s worksite enforcement program,2 our May 2000 report on alien
smuggling,3 our May 2001 report on the processing of immigration
benefits,4 our January 2002 report on immigration benefit fraud,5 our
March 2002 report on INS’ Forensic Document Laboratory,6 our November
2002 report on INS’s alien address information7, and our January 2003




1
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Criminal Aliens: INS’ Efforts to Identify and Remove
Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement, GAO/T-GGD-99-47 (Washington, D.C.:
Feb. 25, 1999).
2
U.S. General Accounting Office, Illegal Aliens: Significant Obstacles to Reducing
Unauthorized Alien Employment Exist, GAO/GGD-99-33 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 2, 1999).
3
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Alien Smuggling: Management and Operational
Improvements Needed to Address Growing Problem, GAO/GGD-00-103 (Washington, D.C.:
May 1, 2000).
4
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Immigration Benefits: Several Factors Impede the
Timeliness of Application Processing, GAO-01-488 (Washington, D.C.: May 4, 2001).
5
U.S. General Accounting Office, Immigration Benefit Fraud: Focused Approach Is
Needed to Address Problems, GAO-02-66 (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 31, 2002).
6
 U.S. General Accounting Office, INS Forensic Document Laboratory: Several Factors
Impeded Timeliness of Case Processing, GAO-02-410 (Washington, D.C.: Mar. 13, 2002)
7
  U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: INS Cannot Locate Many Aliens
Because It Lacks Reliable Address Information, GAO-03-188 (Washington, D.C., Nov. 21,
2002).



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                       reports on major management challenges and program risks at the
                       Departments of Homeland Security and Justice.8

                       In these reports we made many recommendations to improve INS
                       operations. INS had implemented or was in the process of implementing
                       some of these recommendations. We plan to follow up on DHS plans to
                       improve the various programs.


                       In January 1999, INS issued its Interior Enforcement Strategy. This
Components of the      strategy focused resources on areas that would have the greatest impact
Interior Enforcement   on reducing the size and annual growth of the illegal resident population.
                       Certain criteria were used to develop the priorities and activities of the
Strategy               strategy. The criteria focused on potential risks to U.S. communities and
                       persons, costs, capacity to be effective, impact on communities, potential
                       impact on reducing the size of the problem, and potential value for
                       prevention and deterrence. The strategy established the following five
                       areas in priority order:

                       1. Identify and remove criminal aliens and minimize recidivism. Under
                          this strategic priority, INS was to identify and remove criminal aliens
                          as they come out of the federal and state prison systems and those
                          convicted of aggravated felonies currently in probation and parole
                          status.

                       2. Deter, dismantle, and diminish smuggling or trafficking of aliens. This
                          strategic priority called for INS to disrupt and dismantle the criminal
                          infrastructure that encourages and benefits from illegal migration. INS
                          efforts were to start in source and transit countries and continue inside
                          the United States, focusing on smugglers, counterfeit document
                          producers, transporters, and employers who exploit and benefit from
                          illegal migration.

                       3. Respond to community reports and complaints about illegal
                          immigration. In addition to responding to local law enforcement issues
                          and needs, this strategic priority emphasizes working with local




                       8
                        U.S. General Accounting Office, Major Management Challenges and Program Risks:
                       Department of Homeland Security, GAO-03-102 (Washington, D.C., Jan. 2003); and Major
                       Management Challenges and Program Risks: Department of Justice, GAO-03-105
                       (Washington, D.C., Jan. 2003).



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    communities to identify and address problems that arise from the
    impact of illegal immigration, based on local threat assessments.

4. Minimize immigration benefit fraud and other document abuse. Under
   this strategic priority, INS was to aggressively investigate and
   prosecute benefit fraud and document abuse to promote integrity of
   the legal immigration system.

5. Block and remove employers’ access to undocumented workers. The
   strategy emphasizes denying employers access to unauthorized
   workers by checking their compliance with the employment
   verification requirements in the Immigration Reform and Control Act
   of 1986. Coupled with its efforts to control smuggling activity, this
   effort could have a multiplier effect on access of employers to illegal
   workers and on the overall number of illegal residents in the country.

Figure 1 shows that INS had generally allocated its interior enforcement
resources consistent with these priorities and that the workyears devoted
to several of INS’s interior enforcement efforts had either declined or
stayed about the same between fiscal years 1998 and 2002.




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Figure 1: INS Investigations Workyears




                 1200




                 1000




                 800

                                                                                                                                                FY 1998
     Workyears




                                                                                                                                                FY 1999
                 600                                                                                                                            FY 2000
                                                                                                                                                FY 2001
                                                                                                                                                FY 2002


                 400




                 200




                   0
                        Criminal alien removal   Alien smuggling       Noncriminal removals   Benefit and other fraud Employer investigations
                                                                            Program


Source: GAO’s analysis of INS’s data.

                                                                   Note: Workyear totals do not include administrative time.


                                                                   Our work has shown that INS faced numerous daunting enforcement
Challenges to                                                      issues, as will BICE as it assumes responsibility for the strategy. For
Implementing the                                                   example, the potential pool of removable criminal aliens and fugitives
                                                                   numbers in the hundreds of thousands. Many are incarcerated in hundreds
Interior Enforcement                                               of federal, state, and local facilities, while others are fugitives at large
Programs                                                           across the country. The number of individuals smuggled into the United
                                                                   States has increased dramatically, and alien smuggling has become more
                                                                   sophisticated, complex, organized, and flexible. Thousands of aliens
                                                                   annually illegally seek immigration benefits, such as work authorization
                                                                   and change of status, and some of these aliens use these benefits to enable
                                                                   them to conduct criminal activities. Hundreds of thousands of aliens
                                                                   unauthorized to work in the United States have used fraudulent



                                                                   Page 5                                                                                 GAO-03-660T
                         documents to circumvent the process designed to prevent employers from
                         hiring them. In many instances, employers are complicit in this activity.

                         Given the nature, scope, and magnitude of these activities, BICE needs to
                         ensure that it is making the best use of its limited enforcement resources.
                         We found that fundamental management challenges exist in several of the
                         interior enforcement programs and that addressing them will require the
                         high-level attention and concerted efforts of BICE.


Need for Better Staff    In several reports we noted that INS did not believe it had sufficient staff
Levels and Allocations   to reach its program goals. Having data on how to effectively allocate staff
                         and placing sufficient staff in the right locations is important if BICE is to
                         achieve program goals. Staff shortages had contributed to INS’s inability to
                         promptly remove the majority of criminal aliens after they have completed
                         their prison sentences. In 1997 INS did not place into removal proceedings
                         50 percent of potentially deportable criminal aliens who were released
                         from federal prisons and state prisons from 5 states. In 1999 we reported
                         that, although the removal of criminal aliens was an INS management
                         priority, INS faced the same staff shortage issues in 1997 as it had in 1995.
                         In particular, agent attrition – about one-third of the workforce - continued
                         to impede INS’s ability to meet its program goals. INS had told us that
                         since 1997, the attrition rates of agents in this program has stabilized and
                         that, in fiscal year 2003, the agents from this program would be reclassified
                         as detention removal officers, which INS believed should further help
                         reduce attrition.

                         Even if INS had additional staff working in these program areas, it lacked
                         good management information to determine how many staff it needed to
                         meet its program goals and how best to allocate staff given the limited
                         resources it did have. With respect to its program for removing
                         incarcerated criminal aliens, INS told us that beginning in fiscal year 2002,
                         the agency implemented our recommendation to use a workload analysis
                         model. This was to help identify the resources the agency needed for its
                         criminal alien program in order to achieve overall program goals and
                         support its funding and staffing requests. We have not reviewed this new
                         model to ascertain its usefulness.

                         With respect to alien smuggling, INS lacked field intelligence staff to
                         collect and analyze information. Both 1998 and 1999 INS Annual
                         Performance Plan reports stated that the lack of intelligence personnel
                         hampered the collection, reporting, and analysis of intelligence
                         information. Although INS’s Intelligence Program proposed that each

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                         district office have an intelligence unit, as of January 2000, 21 of INS’s 33
                         districts did not have anyone assigned full-time to intelligence-related
                         duties. Our ongoing work at land ports of entry shows this to be a
                         continuing problem.

                         The worksite enforcement program received a relatively small portion of
                         INS’s staffing and budget. In fiscal year 1998, INS completed a total of
                         6,500 worksite investigations, which equated to about 3 percent of the
                         estimated number of employers of unauthorized aliens. Given limited
                         enforcement resources, BICE needs to assure that it targets those
                         industries where employment of illegal aliens poses the greatest potential
                         risk to national security. The program now has several initiatives
                         underway that target sensitive industries.


Need for Better          INS had long-standing difficulty developing and fielding information
Information Technology   systems to support its program operations, and effectively using
                         information technology continued to remain a challenge. For example, in
                         2002 we reported that benefit fraud investigations had been hampered by a
                         lack of integrated information systems. The operations units at the four
                         INS service centers that investigate benefit fraud operate different
                         information systems that did not interface with each other or with the
                         units that investigate benefit fraud at INS district offices. As a result,
                         sharing information about benefit applicants is difficult. The INS staff who
                         adjudicate applications did not have routine access to INS’s National
                         Automated Immigration Lookout System (NAILS). Not having access to or
                         not using NAILS essentially means that officers may be making decisions
                         without access to or using significant information and that benefits may be
                         granted to individuals not entitled to receive them. Thus, INS was not in
                         the best position to review numerous applications and detect patterns,
                         trends, and potential schemes for benefit fraud.

                         Further, in 2002 we reported that another INS database, the Forensic
                         Automated Case and Evidence Tracking System (FACETS), did not
                         contain sufficient data for managers to know the exact size and status of
                         the laboratory’s pending workload or how much time is spent on each
                         forensic case by priority category. As a result, managers were not in the
                         best position to make fact-based decisions about case priorities, staffing,
                         and budgetary resource needs.

                         With respect to the criminal alien program, in 1999 we reported that INS
                         lacked a nationwide data system containing the universe of foreign-born
                         inmates for tracking the hearing status of each inmate. In response to our

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                           recommendation, INS developed a nationwide automated tracking system
                           for the Bureau of Prisons and deployed the system to all federal
                           institutional hearing program sites. INS said that it was working with the
                           Florida Department of Corrections to integrate that state’s system with
                           INS’s automated tracking system. INS also said that it planned to begin
                           working with New York, New Jersey, and Texas to integrate their systems
                           and then work with California, Illinois, and Massachusetts. We have not
                           examined these new systems to determine whether they were completed
                           as planned or to ascertain their effectiveness.

                           In 2000 we reported that INS lacked an agencywide automated case
                           tracking and management system that prevented antismuggling program
                           managers from being able to monitor their ongoing investigations,
                           determine if other antismuggling units were investigating the same target,
                           or know if previous investigations had been conducted on a particular
                           target. In response to our recommendation, INS deployed an automated
                           case tracking and management system for all of its criminal investigations,
                           including alien smuggling investigations. Again, we have not examined the
                           new system to ascertain its effectiveness.


Need for Better Guidance   Our review of the various program components of the interior
to Program Staff           enforcement strategy found that working-level guidance was sometimes
                           lacking or nonexistent. INS had not established guidance for opening
                           benefit fraud investigations or for prioritizing investigative leads. Without
                           such criteria, INS could not be ensured that the highest-priority cases were
                           investigated and resources were used optimally.

                           INS’s interior enforcement strategy did not define the criteria for opening
                           investigations of employers suspected of criminal activities. In response to
                           our recommendation, INS clarified the types of employer-related criminal
                           activities that should be the focus of INS investigations.

                           INS’s alien smuggling intelligence program had been impeded by a lack of
                           understanding among field staff about how to report intelligence
                           information. Staff were unclear about guidelines, procedures, and effective
                           techniques for gathering, analyzing, and disseminating intelligence
                           information. They said that training in this area was critically needed.


Need for Better            INS had not established outcome-based performance measures that would
Performance Measures       have helped it assess the results of its interior enforcement strategy. For
                           example, in 2000 we reported that while INS had met its numeric goals for

                           Page 8                                                           GAO-03-660T
the number of smuggling cases presented for prosecution in its
antismuggling program, it had not yet developed outcome-based measures
that would indicate progress toward the strategy’s objective of identifying,
deterring, disrupting, and dismantling alien smuggling. This was also the
case for the INS intelligence program. INS had not developed outcome-
based performance measures to gauge the success of the intelligence
program to optimize the collection, analysis, and dissemination of
intelligence information.

In 2002 we reported that INS had not yet established outcome-based
performance measures that would help it assess the results of its benefit
fraud investigations. Additionally, INS had not established goals or
measurement criteria for the service center operations units that conduct
fraud investigation activities. INS’s interior enforcement strategy did not
clearly describe the specific measures INS would use to gauge its
performance in worksite enforcement. For example, in 1999 we reported
that the strategy stated that INS would evaluate its performance on the
basis of such things as changes in the behavior or business practices of
persons and organizations, but did not explain how they expected the
behavior and practices to change. And although INS indicated that it
would gauge effectiveness in the worksite area by measuring change in the
wage scales of certain targeted industries, it left unclear a number of
questions related to how it would do this. For example, INS did not specify
how wage scales would be measured; what constituted a targeted industry;
and how it would relate any changes found to its enforcement efforts or
other immigration-related causes. The strategy stated that specific
performance measurements would be developed in the annual
performance plans required by the Government Performance and Results
Act.

According to INS’s fiscal year 2003 budget submission, the events of
September 11th required INS to reexamine strategies and approaches to
ensure that INS efforts fully addressed threats to the United States by
organizations engaging in national security crime. As a result, with regard
to investigating employers who may be hiring undocumented workers, INS
planned to target investigations of industries and businesses where there
is a threat of harm to the public interest. However, INS had not set any
performance measures for these types of worksite investigations.




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                       Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and with the formation of DHS, a
Challenges Faced by    number of management challenges are evident. Some of the challenges
DHS Relating to        discussed above carry over from the INS, such as the need for sound
                       intelligence information, efficient use of resources and management of
Interior Enforcement   workloads, information systems that generate timely and reliable
                       information, clear and current guidance, and appropriate performance
                       measures. Other challenges are emerging. These include creating
                       appropriate cooperation and collaboration mechanisms to assure effective
                       program management, and reinforcing training and management controls
                       to help assure compliance with DHS policies and procedures and the
                       proper treatment of citizens and aliens.


Need for Program       BICE will need to assure that appropriate cooperation and collaboration
Collaboration/         occurs between it and other DHS bureaus. For example, both the Border
Coordination           Patrol, now located in the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
                       (BCBP), and BICE’s immigration investigations program conducted alien
                       smuggling investigations prior to the merger into DHS. These units
                       operated through different chains of command with different reporting
                       structures. As a result, INS’s antismuggling program lacked coordination,
                       resulting in multiple antismuggling units overlapping in their jurisdictions,
                       making inconsistent decisions about which cases to open, and functioning
                       autonomously and without a single chain of command. It’s unclear at this
                       time how the anti-smuggling program will operate under DHS. Should both
                       BCBP’s Border Patrol and BICE’s Investigations program continue to
                       conduct alien smuggling investigations, Under Secretary Hutchinson will
                       need to assure that coordination and collaboration exists to overcome
                       previous program deficiencies.

                       The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) is responsible
                       for administering services such as immigrant and nonimmigrant
                       sponsorship, work authorization, naturalization of qualified applicants for
                       U.S. citizenship, and asylum. Processing benefit applications is an
                       important DHS function that should be done in a timely and consistent
                       manner. Those who are eligible should receive benefits in a reasonable
                       period of time. However, some try to obtain these benefits through fraud,
                       and investigating fraud is the responsibility of BICE’s Immigration
                       Investigations program. INS’ approach to addressing benefit fraud was
                       fragmented and unfocused. INS’ interior enforcement strategy did not
                       address how the different INS components that conducted benefit fraud
                       investigations were to coordinate their investigations. Also, INS had not
                       established guidance to ensure the highest-priority cases are investigated.
                       Secretary Ridge will need to ensure the two bureaus work closely to

                       Page 10                                                          GAO-03-660T
                             assure timely adjudication for eligible applicants while identifying and
                             investigating potential immigration benefit fraud cases.

                             BICE’s Intelligence Program is responsible for collecting, analyzing, and
                             disseminating immigration-related intelligence. Immigration-related
                             intelligence is needed by other DHS components such as Border Patrol
                             agents and inspectors within BCBP and personnel within BCIS
                             adjudicating immigration benefits. BICE will need to develop an
                             intelligence program structure to ensure intelligence information is
                             disseminated to the appropriate components within DHS’s other bureaus.


Need to Reinforce Training   Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and with the formation of DHS,
and Internal Controls        the linkages between immigration enforcement and national security have
                             been brought to the fore. Immigration personnel have been tapped to
                             perform many duties that previously were not part of their normal routine.
                             For example, as part of a special registration program for visitors from
                             selected foreign countries, immigration investigators have been
                             fingerprinting, photographing, and interviewing aliens upon entry to the
                             U.S. Immigration investigators have also participated in anti-terrorism task
                             forces across the country and helped interview thousands of non-
                             immigrant aliens to determine what knowledge they may have had about
                             terrorists and terrorist activities. As part of its investigation of the attacks
                             of September 11, the Justice Department detained aliens on immigration
                             charges while investigating their potential connection with terrorism. An
                             integrated Entry/Exit System, intended to enable the government to
                             determine which aliens have entered and left the country, and which have
                             overstayed their visas, is currently under development and will rely on
                             BICE investigators to locate those who violate the terms of their entry
                             visas.

                             All of these efforts attest to the pivotal role of immigration interior
                             enforcement in national security and expanded roles of investigators in
                             the fight against terrorism. It is important that BICE investigators receive
                             training to perform these expanded duties and help assure that they
                             effectively enforce immigration laws while recognizing the rights of
                             citizens and aliens. It is also important that DHS reinforce its management
                             controls to help assure compliance with DHS policies and procedures.




                             Page 11                                                            GAO-03-660T
                  Having an effective interior enforcement strategy is an essential
Concluding        complement to having an effective border strategy. To be sure, BICE’s
Observations      tasks with regard to interior enforcement are considerable given the
                  nature, scope, and magnitude of illegal activity. INS faced significant
                  challenges in appropriately staffing program areas, providing reliable
                  information for program management, establishing clear and consistent
                  guidance for working-level staff to do their jobs consistent with the goals
                  of the program, and developing outcome-based measures that would
                  indicate progress toward the strategy’s objectives. With the creation of
                  DHS, immigration functions are now in several different bureaus that will
                  require enhanced coordination. Addressing these issues are important if
                  BICE is to achieve full program potential.


                  Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement, I would be pleased
                  to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittees
                  may have.


                  For further information regarding this testimony, please contact Richard
Contacts and      M. Stana at (202) 512-8777. Individuals making key contributions to this
Acknowledgments   testimony included Evi L. Rezmovic and Michael P. Dino.




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