oversight

Homeland Security: Overstay Tracking Is a Key Component of a Layered Defense

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-10-16.

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 1:00 p.m. EST
Thursday, October 16, 2003   HOMELAND SECURITY
                             Overstay Tracking Is a Key
                             Component of a Layered
                             Defense
                             Statement of Nancy R. Kingsbury, Managing Director,
                             Applied Research and Methods




GAO-04-170T 

                                                October 2003


                                                HOMELAND SECURITY

                                                Overstay Tracking Is a Key Component
Highlights of GAO-04-170T, a testimony to       of a Layered Defense
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border
Security, and Claims, Committee on the
Judiciary, House of Representatives




Each year, millions of visitors,                Significant numbers of foreign visitors overstay their authorized periods of
foreign students, and immigrants                admission. The Department of Homeland Security estimates the resident
come to the United States. Visitors             overstay population at 2.3 million as of January 2000. Because the starting
may enter on a legal temporary                  point for this estimate is the 2000 census, it does not cover short-term
basis—that is, with an authorized               overstays who have not established residence here. It also omits an
period of admission that expires on
a specific date—either (1) with
                                                unknown number of potential long-term overstays from Mexico and Canada.
temporary visas (generally for
tourism, business, or work) or, in              Because of unresolved weaknesses in DHS’s current system for tracking
some cases, (2) as tourists or                  arrivals and departures (e.g., noncollection of some departure forms and
business visitors who are allowed               inability to match other departure forms to arrivals), there is no accurate list
to enter without visas. (The latter             of overstays. Two new tracking initiatives are intended to address these
group includes Canadians and                    weaknesses. NSEERS, the National Security Entry and Exit Registration
qualified visitors from 27 countries            System, does not cover most visitors. US-VISIT, the U.S. Visitor and
who enter under the visa waiver                 Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, a more comprehensive, automated
program.) The majority of visitors              program, is being phased in. While its design and implementation face a
who are tracked depart on time,                 number of challenges, evaluating US-VISIT against the weaknesses GAO
but others overstay.
                                                identifies here would increase its potential for success.
Four of the 9/11 hijackers who
entered the United States with legal            The current tracking system’s weaknesses limit control options and make it
visas overstayed their authorized               difficult to monitor potential terrorists who enter the country legally. Like
periods of admission. This has                  other illegal immigrants, overstays obtain jobs with fraudulent identity
heightened attention to issues such             documents, including jobs at critical infrastructure locations, such as
as (1) the extent of overstaying,               airports. Thus, tracking issues can affect domestic security and are one
(2) weaknesses in our current                   component of a layered national defense. Improving the tracking system
overstay tracking system, and                   could work with intelligence, investigation, information-sharing, and other
(3) how the tracking system                     factors to help counter threats from foreign terrorists.
weaknesses and the level of
overstaying might affect domestic
security.




www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-170T.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Nancy
Kingsbury at (202) 512-2700 or
kingsburyn@gao.gov.
     Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

     I am pleased to be here today to discuss overstays—that is, foreign
     citizens who enter the United States legally but do not leave when their
     authorized period of admission expires. Overstay issues have gained
     heightened attention because some of the 9/11 hijackers had overstayed
     their periods of admission. While our work is ongoing, my remarks will
     focus on describing our results to date concerning

•    the extent to which overstaying occurs,
•    weaknesses in the current overstay tracking system, and
•    potential impacts on domestic security.

     In examining these issues, our main information sources include
     (1) relevant GAO and other government reports, (2) interviews with
     officials and staff at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and
     the U.S. Department of Justice, and (3) a variety of data, including
     quantitative data from DHS’s overstay tracking system (based on the I-94
     form), data that DHS developed, at our request, from Operation Tarmac
     (the sweep that identified overstays and other illegal immigrants working
     at U.S. airports), and facts about the arrivals, departures, and overstay
     status of the 9/11 hijackers and others involved in terrorism.

     Our scope did not include aspects of immigration or domestic security
     unrelated to overstaying. While the vast majority of overstays appear to be
     motivated by economic opportunities, the few who are potential terrorists
     could represent a significant threat to our domestic security. An effective
     strategy to address this risk is best developed within the larger context of
     a layered defense for domestic security. Intelligence, investigation, and
     information-sharing are key ingredients supporting this defense, which is
     designed and implemented by a wide range of agencies, including DHS, the
     Department of Justice, the Department of State, and the Social Security
     Administration, among others.

     To summarize the results of our analysis of overstay issues and domestic
     security, we found that

•	   Overstaying is significant and may be understated by DHS’s recent
     estimate.
•    The current system for tracking foreign visitors has several weaknesses.




     Page 1                                                          GAO-04-170T
               •	   It is more difficult to ensure our domestic security because of the
                    weaknesses in the tracking system and the level of overstaying that
                    apparently occurs.

                    Viewing these results in the context of our nation’s layered defense, we
                    believe that improving the tracking system could work together with other
                    factors—especially intelligence, investigation, and information-sharing—
                    to help counter threats from foreign terrorists.


                    Each year, millions of visitors, foreign students, and immigrants come to
Background 	        the United States. Visitors may enter on a legal temporary basis—that is,
                    with an authorized period of admission that expires on a specific date—
                    either with temporary visas (generally for tourism, business, or work)
                    issued by the Department of State or, in some cases, as tourists or
                    business visitors who are allowed to enter without visas. The latter group
                    includes Canadians and qualified visitors from 27 countries who enter
                    under the Visa Waiver Permanent program.1 The large majority of these
                    visitors depart on time, but others overstay.

                    Our definition of an overstay in this testimony is specifically this:

                    An overstay is a foreign visitor who is legally admitted to the United
                    States for a specific authorized period and remains in the United States
                    after that period expires, unless an extension or a change of status has
                    been approved.

                    Although overstays are sometimes referred to as visa overstays, this is
                    technically a misnomer for two reasons. First, a visitor can overstay the
                    authorized period of admission set by the DHS inspector at the border
                    while still possessing a valid visa. (For example, a visitor with a 6-
                    month multiple-entry visa from the Department of State might be issued
                    a 6-week period of admission by the DHS inspector and remain here for
                    7 weeks, thus overstaying.) Second, some visitors are allowed to enter




                    1
                     The Visa Waiver Permanent program allows visitors from 27 countries to enter the United
                    States without visas for up to 90 days for business or pleasure; the majority of visitors from
                    these countries do enter under the visa waiver program. (The countries are listed in
                    appendix II.)




                    Page 2                                                                         GAO-04-170T
     the United States without visas and to remain for specific periods of
     time, which they may overstay.2

     Form I-94 is the basis of the current overstay tracking system. For visitors
     from most countries, the period of admission is authorized (or set) by a
     DHS inspector when they enter the United States legally and fill out this
     form. Each visitor is to give the top half to the inspector and to retain the
     bottom half, which should be collected on his or her departure.

     When visiting the United States for business or pleasure, two major groups
     are exempt from filling out an I-94 form:

•	   Mexicans entering the United States with a Border Crossing Card (BCC) at
     the Southwestern border who intend to limit their stay to less than 72
     hours and not to travel beyond a set perimeter (generally, 25 miles from
     the border)3 and

•	   Canadians admitted for up to 6 months without a perimeter restriction.4
     Thus, the majority of Canadian and Mexican visits cannot be tracked by
     the current system, because the visitors have not filled out Form I-94.
     Tracking should be possible for almost all other legal temporary visitors,
     including visitors from visa waiver countries, because they are required to
     fill out the form.

     Terrorists might be better prevented from legally entering the United
     States if consular officials and DHS inspectors used improved watch lists
     to screen visa applicants and make border inspections. However, some
     terrorists may continue to slip through these border defenses. Keeping all
     dangerous persons and potential terrorist-suspects from legally entering



     2
      For example, Canadians are allowed to enter without visas for purposes of business or
     pleasure and to remain for up to 6 months.
     3
      The Department of State considers the Mexican BCC, termed a B-1/B-2 Visa and Border
     Crossing Card, to be (1) a visa authorizing its holder to be lawfully admitted to the United
     States temporarily for business or pleasure (for example, as a tourist), as well as (2) a BCC
     (that is, used with the 72-hour and perimeter limits). When the card is used as a visa, Form
     I-94 must be completed. It should also be noted that DHS inspectors may, at their
     discretion, require any Mexican using the card as a BCC to fill out Form I-94 as a condition
     of admission and that Form I-94 is required for visits that exceed 72 hours or include travel
     beyond the general 25-mile limit (in some cases in Arizona, travel up to 75 miles from the
     border is allowed).
     4
     DHS inspectors may, at their discretion, require any such Canadian to fill out Form I-94.



     Page 3                                                                         GAO-04-170T
the United States is difficult because some do not match the expected
characteristics of terrorists or suspicious persons; in addition, some may
not be required to apply for visas (that is, citizens of Canada or one of the
27 visa waiver countries).

Watch lists have been improved somewhat since 9/11, but further
improvements are needed. For example, earlier this year we reported that
the State Department “with the help of other agencies, almost doubled the
number of names and the amount of information” in its Consular Lookout
and Support System.5 We also reported that “the federal watch list
environment has been characterized by a proliferation of [terrorist and
watch list] systems, among which information sharing is occurring in some
cases but not in others.”6

In this testimony today, we focus primarily on an overstay’s illegal
presence within the United States and the potential consequences for
domestic security. Viewed in terms of individuals, the overstay process
can be summarized as aliens’ (1) legally visiting the United States, which
for citizens of most nations is preceded by obtaining a passport and a visa
and requires filling out Form I-94 at the U.S. border; (2) overstaying for a
period that may range from a single day to weeks, months, or years; and, in
some cases, (3) terminating their overstay status by exiting the United
States or adjusting to legal permanent resident status (that is, obtaining a
green card).7 Beyond that, the overstay process can be viewed more
broadly in the context of our nation’s layered defense. For example, figure
1 illustrates many issues in this defense that we have analyzed in
numerous reports—ranging from overseas tracking of terrorists to
stateside security for critical infrastructure locations and aviation.




5
 U.S. General Accounting Office, Border Security: New Policies and Increased
Interagency Coordination Needed to Improve Visa Process, GAO-03-1013T (Washington,
D.C.: July 15, 2003), p. 3.
6
U.S. General Accounting Office, Information Technology: Terrorist Watch Lists Should
Be Consolidated to Promote Better Integration and Sharing, GAO-03-322 (Washington,
D.C.: Apr. 15, 2003), p. 28.
7
 In general, aliens who are present illegally in the United States are prohibited from
obtaining green cards by adjusting, while here, to permanent resident alien (legal
immigrant) status. There are exceptions; for example, this prohibition was waived for
certain aliens who applied for such adjustment between 1994 and 2001 under §245(i) of the
Immigration and Nationality Act.



Page 4                                                                     GAO-04-170T
Figure 1: The Layered Defense for Domestic Security




                                        Page 5        GAO-04-170T
                         Significant numbers of visitors overstay their authorized periods of
The Extent of            admission. A recent DHS estimate put the January 2000 resident overstay
Overstaying Is           population at 1/3 of 7 million illegal immigrants, or 2.3 million.8 The
                         method DHS used to obtain the 1/3 figure is complex and indirect, and we
Significant and May      plan to evaluate that estimate further. However, the 2.3 million overstay
Be Understated by        estimate excludes specific groups, and we believe, therefore, that it
                         potentially understates the extent of overstaying.
DHS’s Estimate
                         By definition, DHS’s estimate of 2.3 million overstays as of January 2000
                         represents only a part of the total overstay problem. DHS’s estimate of 7
                         million illegal immigrants is limited to illegals who settled and were
                         residing here at the time of the 2000 census.9 It includes only overstays
                         who were in the actual census count or included in corrections for
                         possible undercounts of illegal immigrants.

                         DHS’s estimate of overstays as of January 2000 is not defined to include
                         the following groups:

                      a. Visitors filling out Form I-94 who

                         •	   overstay for short periods of time. Many such persons are not likely
                              to be included in the 2000 census, which is the starting point of DHS’s
                              2.3 million estimate of the resident overstay population. In our ongoing
                              work, we will examine indicators of the magnitude, and significance, of
                              short-term overstaying among visitors who fill out I-94 forms.

                      b. Mexican and Canadian visitors not filling out Form I-94 who

                         •	   overstayed and settled here.10 Overstays in this group are included
                              in DHS’s estimate of 7 million illegal immigrants, but they are
                              categorized as illegal immigrants other than overstays. This is because


                         8
                          The other two-thirds were generally categorized as illegal border crossers (see U.S.
                         Immigration and Naturalization Service, Office of Policy and Planning, Estimates of the
                         Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: 1990 to 2000
                         (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 2003)).
                         9
                          Essentially, DHS’s estimate of 7 million illegal residents is based on subtracting foreign-
                         born persons here legally (who are reflected in statistical immigration records) from
                         census counts of total foreign-born; subtraction is carried out separately for annual cohorts
                         of arrivals in the United States.
                         10
                           As we noted previously, the majority of Mexican and Canadian visits do not require Form
                         I-94.



                         Page 6                                                                        GAO-04-170T
                                           DHS used I-94 data from the early 1990s and projected these data
                                           forward to obtain the 1/3 overstay proportion.

                                      •	   overstay for short periods. As indicated above, many short-term
                                           overstays are not included in the 2000 census, which is the starting
                                           point of DHS’s 2.3 million estimate of the resident overstay population.

                                      These groups are illustrated in figure 2.

Figure 2: Key Groups Covered and Not Covered by DHS’s Overstay Estimate




                                      a
                                       During fiscal year 2001, nearly 33 million visits were tracked by I-94 arrival forms. Of these tracked
                                      visits, 14 percent (about 4.6 million) were by Mexican and Canadian citizens.
                                      b
                                       Aliens not tracked were mainly Canadian citizens or Mexican holders of BCCs issued by the
                                      Department of State. During fiscal years 1999 to 2003, the Department of State issued 6.4 million
                                      Mexican BCCs. According to unofficial DHS planning figures for fiscal year 2002, there were
                                      approximately 156 million “inspections conducted” for visits by visa-exempt aliens and aliens with
                                      Mexican BCCs at land border crossings. (See Department of Homeland Security, US-VISIT Program
                                      Overview (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 16, 2003).) DHS’s Office of Immigration Statistics told us that very
                                      few such visits are tracked by the I-94 system. Because some persons may repeatedly visit the
                                      United States, the number of persons inspected is less than the number of inspections.




                                      Page 7                                                                                   GAO-04-170T
In part because of coverage issues, the extent of overstaying has not been
definitively measured. In addition, the accuracy of DHS’s estimate of the
resident overstay population is not known with precision.11 Other limited
data points may help illustrate the possible magnitude.12

For this testimony, we obtained two small-sample sources of data. First,
we identified a government-sponsored survey, reported in 2002, that had
(1) sampled more than 1,000 adult green-card holders, (2) asked them
about their prior immigration status, and (3) found that more than 300
respondents self-reported prior illegal status.13 From the computer run we
requested, we found that of the roughly 300 former illegals, about 1/3 said
they were former overstays, with most of the remaining 2/3 reporting prior
illegal border crossing.14

Second, we obtained data from Operation Tarmac, the 2001–03 sweep of
airport employees who had access to sensitive areas. Although Operation
Tarmac investigators had collected information on overstaying, they did
not systematically record data for overstays versus illegal border crossers.
We requested that DHS manually review a sample of case files and identify



11
 We identified challenges and potential weaknesses in INS’s previous estimates of
overstays in U.S. General Accounting Office, Illegal Immigration: INS Overstay
Estimation Methods Need Improvement, GAO/PEMD-95-20 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 26,
1995). We note that INS’s previous estimates were higher than 1/3. INS testified in 1999 that
overstays constituted 40 to 50 percent of that population (see Michael D. Cronin, Acting
Associate Commissioner, Programs, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Testimony
Regarding Nonimmigrant Overstays before the Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims,
House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Congress, Washington, D.C., March 18, 1999).
12
  Earlier reports from INS and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice indicated
that overstays constituted substantial percentages of groups of illegal residents who
legalized their status. See Immigration and Naturalization Service, Immigration Reform
and Control Act: Report of the Legalized Alien Population (Washington, D.C.: 1992), and
U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Immigration and
Naturalization Service Monitoring of Nonimmigrant Overstays, report I-97-08
(Washington, D.C.: 1997).
13
 The survey was sponsored by DHS and the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development, in partnership with other federal agencies. The sample was drawn from
nearly 150,000 adults who had obtained their green cards in July and August 1996 (see
Douglas S. Massey and Nolan Malone, “Pathways to Legal Immigration,” Population
Research and Policy Review 21 (2002): 473–504).
14
  As previously noted, in general, aliens who are present illegally in the United States are
prohibited from obtaining green cards by adjusting, while here, to permanent resident alien
(legal immigrant) status. There are exceptions; for example, this prohibition was waived
for certain aliens from 1994 to 2001 under §245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.



Page 8                                                                        GAO-04-170T
                                overstays. DHS reported to us that of 286 sampled cases in which illegal
                                immigrant airport workers (that is, overstays and illegal border crossers)
                                were arrested or scheduled for deportation, 124 workers, or about 40
                                percent, were overstays.

                                While both the survey data and the airport data represent rough small-
                                sample checks, they provide some additional support for concluding that
                                overstays are not rare.



Unresolved Tracking
System Weaknesses
Heighten the Overstay
Problem


I-94 Tracking System            One weakness in DHS’s system for tracking the paper Form I-94—its
Weaknesses Limit Control        limited coverage of Mexican and Canadian visitors—was discussed in the
Options                         section above. In our previous work, we have pointed to at least three
                                other weaknesses in this tracking system:

                           •	   Failure to update the visitor’s authorized period of admission or
                                immigration status. We reported earlier this year that DHS does not
                                “consistently enter change of status data . . . [or] integrate these data with
                                those for entry and departure.”15 DHS told us that linkage to obtain
                                updated information may occur for an individual, as when a consular
                                official updates information on an earlier period of admission for someone
                                seeking a new visa, but DHS acknowledged that linkage cannot be
                                achieved broadly to yield an accurate list of visitors who overstayed.

                           •	   Lack of reliable address information and inability to locate
                                visitors. Some visitors do not fill in destination address information on
                                Form I-94 or they do so inadequately. A related issue that we reported in



                                15
                                 U.S. General Accounting Office, H-1B Foreign Workers: Better Tracking Needed to Help
                                Determine H-1B Program’s Effects on U.S. Workforce, GAO-03-883 (Washington, D.C.:
                                Sept. 10, 2003), p. 5. See also U.S. General Accounting Office, Immigration Benefits:
                                Several Factors Impede Timeliness of Application Processing, GAO-01-488 (Washington,
                                D.C.: May 4, 2001).



                                Page 9                                                                   GAO-04-170T
     2002 is DHS’s inability to obtain updated address information during each
     visitor’s stay; such information could be a valuable addition to the arrival,
     departure, and destination address information that is collected.16

•	   Missing departure forms. We reported in 1995 that “airlines are
     responsible for collecting . . . departure forms when visitors leave [by air]
      . . . . But for some visitors who may have actually left the United States
     [there is no] record of the departures.”17 DHS acknowledges that this is still
     a concern, that the situation is analogous for cruise lines, and that
     noncollection is a larger problem for land exits.

     Our recent work has also drawn attention to identity fraud, demonstrating
     how persons presenting fraudulent documents (bearing a name other than
     their own) to DHS inspectors could enter the United States.18 Visitors
     whose fraudulent documents pass inspection could record a name other
     than their own on their I-94 form.

     In our current work, we have identified two further weaknesses in the
     tracking system. One weakness is the inability to match some departure
     forms back to corresponding arrival forms. DHS has suggested that when a
     visitor loses the original departure form, matching is less certain because
     it can no longer be based on identical numbers printed on the top and
     bottom halves of the original form. The other weakness is that at land
     ports (and possibly airports and seaports), the collection of departure
     forms is vulnerable to manipulation—in other words, visitors could make
     it appear that they had left when they had not. To illustrate, on bridges
     where toll collectors accept I-94 departure forms at the Southwestern
     border, a person departing the United States by land could hand in
     someone else’s I-94 form.



     16
      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).
     17
       U.S. General Accounting Office, Illegal Immigration, GAO/PEMD-95-20, p. 2. See also
     U.S. General Accounting Office, Illegal Aliens: Despite Data Limitations, Current
     Methods Provide Better Population Estimates, GAO/PEMD-93-25 (Washington, D.C.: Aug.
     5, 1993).
     18
       Our investigators have tested DHS inspectors by using counterfeit driver’s licenses and
     fictitious names to enter the United States from Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, and Mexico;
     DHS did not question the authenticity of the counterfeit documents (see U.S. General
     Accounting Office, Security: Counterfeit Identification and Identification Fraud Raise
     Security Concerns, GAO-03-1147T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 9, 2003).)



     Page 10                                                                      GAO-04-170T
     Because of these weaknesses, DHS has no accurate list of overstays to
     send to consular officials or DHS inspectors. This limits DHS’s ability to
     consider past overstaying when issuing new visas or allowing visitors to
     reenter.

     More generally, the lack of an accurate list limits prevention and
     enforcement options. For example, accurate data on overstays and other
     visitors might help define patterns to better differentiate visa applicants
     with higher overstay risk. And without an accurate list and updated
     addresses, it is not possible to identify and locate new overstays to remind
     them of penalties for not departing. Such efforts fall under the category of
     interior enforcement: As we previously testified, “historically . . . over five
     times more resources in terms of staff and budget [have been devoted to]
     border enforcement than . . . [to] interior enforcement.”19 Despite large
     numbers of overstays, current efforts to deport them are generally limited
     to (1) criminals and smugglers, (2) employees identified as illegal at
     critical infrastructure locations, and (3) persons included in special
     control efforts such as the domestic registration (or “call in” component)
     of the NSEERS program (the National Security Entry and Exit Registration
     System).20 DHS statisticians told us that for fiscal year 2002, the risk of
     arrest for all overstays was less than 2 percent.21 For most other overstays
     (that is, for persons not in the targeted groups), the risk of deportation is
     considerably lower.

     The effect of tracking system weaknesses on overstay data is illustrated by
     the inaccurate—and, according to DHS, inflated—lists of what it terms
     “apparent overstays” and “confirmed overstays.” For fiscal year 2001
     arrivals, the system yielded

•	   a list of 6.5 million “apparent overstays” for which DHS had no departure
     record that matched the arrivals and



     19
      U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Challenges to Implementing the
     Immigration Interior Enforcement Strategy, GAO-03-660T, statement by Richard M. Stana
     before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, House Committee
     on the Judiciary, U.S. Congress (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 10, 2003), p. 1.
     20
       NSEERS domestic registration has required selected groups of aliens from a number of
     countries to register with immigration authorities; for a subset of these countries, special
     registration at the point of entry is required for arriving visitors.
     21
       They calculated this by counting arrests for all legal visitors and overstays, including the
     targeted groups, and dividing by DHS’s estimate of the resident overstay population.



     Page 11                                                                          GAO-04-170T
                          •	   an additional list of a half million “confirmed overstays,” or visits that
                               ended after the visitors’ initial periods of admission expired (see
                               appendixes I and II).

                               However, DHS has no way of knowing how many of the 6.5 million are real
                               cases of overstaying and how many are false (because some of these
                               visitors had, for example, departed or legally changed their status). Even
                               the half million “confirmed overstays” are not all true cases of overstaying,
                               because some visitors may have legally extended their periods of
                               admission.

                               In the past, we made a number of recommendations that directly or
                               indirectly address some of these system weaknesses, but these
                               recommendations have not been implemented or have been only partially
                               implemented. (Of these, four key recommendations are in appendix III.)


DHS Intends Its New            DHS has begun two initiatives intended to remedy some of the weaknesses
Tracking Initiatives to        we have discussed. DHS recently began, as part of NSEERS, an effort to
Address System                 register visitors at points of entry (POE) to the United States, conduct
                               intermittent interviews with registered visitors while they are here, and
Weaknesses, but Issues         have government inspectors register departures. But the POE effort does
Remain                         not cover most visitors because it focuses on persons born in only eight
                               countries.22 Moreover, NSEERS procedures do not involve inspectors’
                               observing departures—for example, registration occurs not at airport
                               departure gates but at another location at the airport. Also, inspectors do
                               not generally accompany registrants to observe their boarding.23

                               US-VISIT, the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology, is
                               DHS’s new tracking system intended to improve entry-exit data. The first
                               phase of US-VISIT, now being rolled out, uses passenger and crew
                               manifest data, as well as biometrics, to verify foreign visitors’ identities at
                               airports and seaports. DHS plans three additional phases and will link its
                               data to other systems that contain data about foreign nationals. If




                               22
                                 The eight NSEERS POE registration countries are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi
                               Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Seventeen additional countries (listed in appendix II) are
                               included in the NSEERS domestic registration component of this program.
                               23
                                It is also possible for NSEERS registrants to exit without registering, although there are
                               penalties for doing so.



                               Page 12                                                                        GAO-04-170T
                        successfully designed and implemented, US-VISIT could avoid many of the
                        weaknesses associated with the Form I-94 system.

                        We believe special efforts are needed to ensure US-VISIT’s success. DHS
                        concurred with our recent report, pointing to risks and the need for
                        improved management of US-VISIT. For example, we reported that, among
                        other issues, “important aspects defining the [US-VISIT] program’s
                        operating environment are not yet decided [and its] facility needs are
                        unclear and challenging.”24 Our recommendations included, among others,
                        that DHS develop acquisition management controls and a risk
                        management plan for US-VISIT, as well as defining performance standards.

                        We also believe that checking US-VISIT’s program design against the
                        weaknesses of the Form I-94 system, outlined here, might help in
                        evaluating the program and ensuring its success.



Overstay Issues May
Complicate Efforts to
Ensure Domestic
Security


Tracking System         Tracking system weaknesses may encourage overstaying on the part of
Weaknesses Encourage    visitors and potential terrorists who legally enter the United States. Once
Overstays and Hamper    here, terrorists may overstay or use other stratagems—such as exiting and
                        reentering (to obtain a new authorized period of admission) or applying
Some Counterterrorism   for a change of status—to extend their stay. As shown in table 1, three of
Efforts                 the six pilots and apparent leaders were out of status on or before 9/11,
                        two because of short-term overstaying.




                        24
                         Highlights page in U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Risks Facing Key
                        Border and Transportation Security Program Need to Be Addressed, GAO-03-1083
                        (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 19, 2003).



                        Page 13                                                                  GAO-04-170T
Table 1: Overstay and Other Immigration Status Data on 9/11 Terrorists

                                                                                                                                      Change-of-status
Hijacker group                   Immigration status issue                                                     Entries                     applications
6 pilotsa and apparent leaders   2 prior overstays;b                                                          18 total                               3
                                                             c
                                 1 out-of-status student                                       (1 to 7 entries each)
13 other hijackers               2 overstays                                                                  13 total                               0
                                                                                                             (1 each)
Total = 19 hijackers             4 overstays total;                                                          31 total                           3 total
                                 5 violations (including overstays and                 (from 1 to 7 entries each)                         (0 to 1 each)
                                 the out-of-status student)
                                             Sources: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and GAO analysis.
                                             Note: We define an overstay as a legally admitted foreign visitor who remains even 1 day after his or
                                             her authorized period of admission expires, if an extension or status change has not been approved.
                                             a
                                                 Pilots or co-pilots. (Three were both pilots, or co-pilots, and apparent leaders.)
                                             b
                                              The two prior overstays had remained here beyond their authorized period of admission. They
                                             accrued days of overstay.
                                             c
                                                 Violated terms of student visa by not attending school.


                                             Additionally, a current overstay recently pled guilty to identity document
                                             fraud in connection with the 9/11 hijackers. Two others with a history of
                                             overstaying were recently convicted of crimes connected to terrorism
                                             (money-laundering and providing material support to terrorists); both had
                                             overstayed for long periods.

                                             Terrorists who enter as legal visitors are hidden within the much larger
                                             populations of all legal visitors, overstays, and other illegals such as
                                             border crossers. Improved tracking could help counterterrorism
                                             investigators and prosecutors track them and prosecute them, particularly
                                             in cases in which suspicious individuals are placed on watch lists after
                                             they enter the country. The director of the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task
                                             Force told us that he considered overstay tracking data helpful. For
                                             example, these data—together with additional analysis—can be important
                                             in quickly and efficiently determining whether suspected terrorists were in
                                             the United States at specific times.

                                             As we reported earlier this year, between “September 11 and November 9,
                                             2001 [that is, over the course of 2 months], . . . INS compiled a list of aliens
                                             whose characteristics were similar to those of the hijackers” in types of
                                             visa, countries issuing their passports, and dates of entry into the United




                                             Page 14                                                                                     GAO-04-170T
                           States.25 While the list of aliens was part of an effort to identify and locate
                           specific persons for investigative interviews, it contained duplicate names
                           and data entry errors. In other words, poor data hampered the
                           government’s efforts to obtain information in a national emergency, and
                           investigators turned to private sector information. Reporting earlier that
                           INS data “could not be fully relied on to locate many aliens who were of
                           interest to the United States,” we had indicated that the Form I-94 system
                           is relevant, stressing the need for improved change-of-address notification
                           requirements.26 INS generally concurred with our findings.


Overstays’ Employment in   DHS has declared that combating fraudulent employment at critical
Sensitive Airport Jobs     infrastructures, such as airports, is a priority for domestic security.27 DHS
Illustrates Potential      has planned and ongoing efforts to identify illegal workers in key jobs at
                           various infrastructures (for example, airport workers with security
Effects on Domestic        badges). These sweeps are thought to reduce the nation’s vulnerability to
Security                   terrorism, because, as experts have told us, (1) security badges issued on
                           the basis of fraudulent IDs constitute security breaches, and (2) overstays
                           and other illegals working in such facilities might be hesitant to report
                           suspicious activities for fear of drawing authorities’ attention to
                           themselves or they might be vulnerable to compromise.

                           Operation Tarmac swept 106 airports and identified 4,271 illegal
                           immigrants who had misused Social Security numbers and identity
                           documents in obtaining airport jobs and security badges.28 A much smaller
                           number of airport employees had misrepresented their criminal histories
                           in order to obtain their jobs and badges. The illegal immigrant workers
                           with access to secure airport areas were employed by airlines (for
                           example, at Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan
                           Washington National Airport, this included American, Atlantic Coast,
                           Delta, Northwest, and United Airlines as well as SwissAir and British
                           Airways) and by a variety of other companies (for example, Federal


                           25
                             See U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: Justice Department’s Project to
                           Interview Aliens after September 11, 2001, GAO-03-459 (Washington, D.C.: Apr. 11, 2003).
                           In that report, we also reviewed other problems with the post–9/11 interviewing initiative.
                           26
                            U.S. General Accounting Office, Homeland Security: INS Cannot Locate, GAO-03-188.
                           27
                            After 9/11, DHS shifted its interior enforcement focus to jobs with access to sensitive,
                           critical-infrastructure areas.
                           28
                            Such employees must have a security badge to work in (or escort others into) a secure
                           area.



                           Page 15                                                                        GAO-04-170T
               Express and Ogden Services). Job descriptions included, among others,
               aircraft maintenance technician, airline agent, airline cabin service
               attendant, airplane fueler, baggage handler, cargo operations manager,
               electrician, janitorial supervisor, member of a cleaning crew, predeparture
               screener, ramp agent, and skycap.

               In the large majority of these cases, identity fraud or counterfeit IDs were
               involved; without fraud or counterfeit documents, illegal workers would
               not have been able to obtain the jobs and badges allowing them access to
               secure areas.29

               As we discussed earlier in this testimony, when we obtained data on the
               specific immigration status of workers who were arrested or scheduled for
               deportation at 14 Operation Tarmac airports, we found that a substantial
               number were overstays. A DHS official told us that Operation Tarmac is
               likely not to have identified all illegal aliens working in secure areas of
               airports.


               Weaknesses in DHS’s current overstay tracking system and the magnitude
Conclusion 	   of the overstay problem make it more difficult to ensure domestic security.
               DHS has recently initiated two efforts to develop improved systems, but
               challenges remain. Designing and implementing a viable and effective
               tracking system is a critical component of the nation’s domestic security
               and continues to be a DHS priority. Viewing our results in the context of
               our nation’s layered defense, we believe that improvements in the tracking
               system must work together with other factors—such as intelligence,
               investigation, and information-sharing—to help ensure domestic security.




               29
                Efforts to combat domestic identity fraud are part of our nation’s layered defense, and we
               have testified that “identity theft is a major facilitator of international terrorism” (see U.S.
               General Accounting Office, Identity Fraud: Prevalence and Links to Alien Illegal
               Activities, GAO-02-830T (Washington, D.C.: June 25, 2002), p. 9).



               Page 16                                                                          GAO-04-170T
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to respond

to any questions that you or other members of the Committee may have. 


For information regarding this testimony, please contact 

Nancy R. Kingsbury, Managing Director, Applied Research and Methods, 

on 202-512-2700. Individuals who made key contributions to this testimony 

are Donna Heivilin, Judy Droitcour, Daniel Rodriguez, and Eric M. Larson. 





Page 17                                                       GAO-04-170T
Appendix I: I-94 Data: Number of Foreign
Visitor Arrivals by Air, Sea, and Land and
“Overstay Cases,” Fiscal Year 2001

                                                                                                         Annual “overstay cases”
                                                                                                     (a mixture of real and false cases)

                                                                                      “Apparent”:                       “Confirmed”:
                                                              a                                  b                                     c
 Mode of arrival                      Annual arrivals                              nondepartures                     late departures           Total “overstay cases”
 Air and sea                                  29,688,000                                     4,349,000                         212,000                         4,561,000
 Land                                           3,109,000                                    2,217,000                         231,000                         2,448,000
 All modes                                    32,799,000                                     6,566,000                         443,000                         7,010,000
Sources: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, and GAO analysis.

                                                                  Note: Includes visitors’ arrivals October 2000 through September 2001 and their departures through
                                                                  January and February 2002. Arrival data represent arrivals rather than the number of visitors who
                                                                  arrived; that is, the data do not correct for multiple entries, and possibly multiple exits, by the same
                                                                  person. Figures may not sum because of rounding and because the “all modes” category includes
                                                                  some visits for which the mode of arrival is not known.
                                                                  a
                                                                  Excludes many Mexicans and Canadians who, visiting for business and pleasure, are exempt from
                                                                  Form I-94 procedures.
                                                                  b
                                                                   Includes cases in which no departure form could be matched to the arrival form (including some
                                                                  departing visitors who had lost their departure forms and filled out another form that could not be
                                                                  matched to their arrival form).
                                                                  c
                                                                      Includes some departing visitors who had extended their stay or adjusted their status.




                                                                  Page 18                                                                                  GAO-04-170T
Appendix II: I-94 Data: “Overstay Cases” (A
Mix of Real and False Cases) by Mode of
Arrival and Citizenship, Fiscal Year 2001

                                                                           a                                              b
                                “Apparent” nondepartures for                              “Confirmed” late departures            Total “overstay cases” for visitors
                                   visitors who arrived by                                 for visitors who arrived by                     who arrived by
 Citzenship                       Air and                                                  Air and                                   Air and
 group                                sea               Land All modes                         sea      Land    All modes                sea          Land All modes
            c
 Mexico                          446,000         1,825,000             2,270,000            18,000    222,000      240,000          463,000      2,046,000     2,510,000
                c
 Canada                            45,000             41,000              86,000              1,000     2,000         3,000           46,000        43,000         89,000
 Countries in visa
                 d
 waiver program                1,963,000            207,000            2,171,000            62,000      4,000        66,000       2,025,000        210,000     2,236,000
 Countries 

 subsequently 

 listed in the 

 NSEERS 

 domestic 

 registration

 programe                        103,000              12,000             115,000              7,000        —          8,000         110,000         13,000       123,000

 Rest of world                 1,793,000            132,000            1,924,000          123,000       4,000      128,000        1,916,000        136,000     2,052,000
 Total                         4,349,000         2,217,000             6,566,000          212,000     231,000      443,000        4,561,000      2,448,000     7,010,000
Sources: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, and GAO analysis.

                                                                  Note: Includes visitors’ arrivals October 2000 through September 2001 and their departures through
                                                                  January and February 2002. Arrival data represent arrivals rather than the number of visitors who
                                                                  arrived; that is, the data do not correct for multiple entries, and possibly multiple exits, by the same
                                                                  person. Figures may not sum because of rounding and because the “all modes” category includes
                                                                  some visits for which the mode of arrival is not known.
                                                                  a
                                                                   Includes cases in which no departure form could be matched to the arrival form (including some
                                                                  departing visitors who had lost their departure forms and filled out another form that could not be
                                                                  matched to their arrival form).
                                                                  b
                                                                      Includes some departing visitors who had extended their stay or adjusted their status.
                                                                  c
                                                                  Excludes many Mexicans or Canadians who, visiting for business and pleasure, are exempt from
                                                                  Form I-94 procedures.
                                                                  d
                                                                   Most, but not all, visitors from Permanent Visa Waiver countries enter under this program. Visa
                                                                  waiver countries in this tally are Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland,
                                                                  France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands,
                                                                  New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and
                                                                  United Kingdom. (Excludes Argentina and Uruguay, which were visa waiver countries in fiscal year
                                                                  2001.)
                                                                  e
                                                                   The 25 countries in the NSEERS domestic registration program include (1) 8 countries also subject
                                                                  to point-of-entry (POE) registration (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, and
                                                                  Yemen) and (2) 17 other countries (Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea,
                                                                  Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Tunisia, and
                                                                  United Arab Emirates). The 123,000 total “overstay cases” (all modes of arrival) from these countries
                                                                  in fiscal year 2001 include approximately 49,000 cases from the countries subject to POE registration
                                                                  and approximately 73,000 cases from the other countries, excluding North Korea. The data exclude
                                                                  North Korea from the NSEERS countries tally because DHS did not provide information separately for
                                                                  North and South Korea.




                                                                  Page 19                                                                                  GAO-04-170T
Appendix III: Four Prior Recommendations
to INS/DHS Related to Overstay Tracking,
Data, or Estimates
              1. 	 We recommended that to improve the collection of departure forms,
                   the Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service
                   should ensure that INS examine the quality control of the
                   Nonimmigrant Information System database and determine why
                   departure forms are not being recorded. For example, this could
                   involve examining a sample of the passenger manifest lists of flights
                   with foreign destinations to determine the extent of airline compliance
                   and possibly developing penalties on airlines for noncompliance.
                   Discovery of the incidence of various causes of departure loss could
                   allow more precise estimation of their occurrence and development of
                   possible remedies. (U.S. General Accounting Office, Illegal Aliens:
                   Despite Data Limitations, Current Methods Provide Better
                   Population Estimates, GAO/PEMD-93-25 (Washington, D.C.: Aug. 5,
                   1993).)

                  INS agreed in principle with our recommendation to study why
                  departure forms are not being collected and subsequently initiated a
                  pilot project that was criticized by the Department of Justice Inspector
                  General and then discontinued. DHS has not told us of any further
                  efforts to study or determine why departure forms are not being
                  collected.

              2. 	 We recommended that the Commissioner of INS should have new
                   overstay estimates prepared for air arrivals from all countries, using
                   improved estimation procedures such as those discussed in this report,
                   including, as appropriate, the potential improvements suggested by
                   INS or by reviewers of this report. (U.S. General Accounting Office,
                   Illegal Immigration: INS Overstay Estimation Methods Need
                   Improvement, GAO/PEMD-95-20 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 26, 1995).)

                  INS initially concurred and produced revised estimates as part of its
                  comments on our report. However, in our response to INS’s comments,
                  we described the new estimates as a “first step” and identified
                  concerns about INS’s methodological procedures that we said needed
                  further study. DHS told us that it has not further studied making
                  overstay estimates by air arrivals. Valid estimation of overstays is
                  extremely difficult, given current tracking system weaknesses.

              3. 	 We recommended that to promote compliance with the change of
                   address notification requirements through publicity and enforcement
                   and to improve the reliability of its alien address data, the Attorney
                   General should direct the INS Commissioner to identify and implement
                   an effective means to publicize the change of address notification
                   requirement nationwide. INS should make sure that, as part of its
                   publicity effort, aliens are provided with information on how to

              Page 20                                                         GAO-04-170T
           Appendix III: Four Prior Recommendations to
           INS/DHS Related to Overstay Tracking, Data,
           or Estimates




               comply with this requirement, including where information may be
               available and the location of change of address forms. (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).)

               INS/DHS concurred with this recommendation and has identified it as
               a long-term strategy that will require 2 years to fully implement. It has
               been less than a year since we made this recommendation, and thus
               there has not been sufficient time for DHS to implement it fully or for
               us to review that implementation.

           4. 	 We recommended that to provide better information on H-1B workers
                and their status changes, the Secretary of DHS take actions to ensure
                that information on prior visa status and occupations for permanent
                residents and other employment-related visa holders is consistently
                entered into current tracking systems and that such information
                become integrated with entry and departure information when planned
                tracking systems are complete. (U.S. General Accounting Office, H-1B
                Foreign Workers: Better Tracking Needed to Help Determine H-1B
                Program’s Effects on U.S. Workforce, GAO-03-883 (Washington, D.C.:
                Sept. 10, 2003).)

               DHS concurred with this recommendation, made just a month ago.
               Sufficient time has not elapsed for DHS to implement this
               recommendation.




(460560)
           Page 21                                                           GAO-04-170T
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