Homeland Security:

INS Cannot Locate Many Aliens Because It Lacks Reliable Address Information

GAO-03-188: Published: Nov 21, 2002. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 2002.

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Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government's need to locate aliens in the United States was considerably heightened. Without reliable alien address information, the government is impeded in its ability to find aliens who represent a national security threat or who could help with the nation's anti-terrorism efforts. Requesters from both the Senate and House asked GAO to review the reliability of INS's alien address information and identify the ways it could be improved.

Recent events have shown that INS's alien address information could not be fully relied on to locate many aliens who were of interest to the United States. For example, the Department of Justice sought to locate and interview 4,112 aliens who were believed to be in the country and who might have knowledge that would assist the nation in its anti-terrorism efforts. However, as shown below, almost half of these aliens could not be located and interviewed because INS lacked reliable address information. The reliability of INS's alien address information is contingent, in part, on aliens' compliance with the requirement that they notify INS of any change of address. However, lack of publicity about the requirement that aliens should file change of address notifications, no enforcement of penalties for noncompliance, and inadequate processing procedures for changes of address also contribute to INS's alien address information being unreliable. Because INS does not publicize the change of address requirement, some aliens may not be aware of it and may not comply with it. Alternatively, some aliens who are aware of the requirement may not comply because they do not wish to be located. These aliens have little incentive to comply given that INS does not enforce the penalties for noncompliance. On the basis of our review of available data, INS does not appear to have enforced the removal penalty for noncompliance since the early 1970s. When aliens do comply with the requirement, INS lacks adequate processing procedures and controls to ensure that the alien address information it receives is recorded in all automated databases. Addressing these problems should help improve the reliability of INS's alien address information but would not necessarily result in a system that would allow INS to reliably locate all aliens, because some aliens will not likely comply. INS has recognized the need to increase the reliability of its alien address information and is taking some steps to improve it.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS does not intend to implement this recommendation. Officials said that the principal reason for not putting a space for the Social Security Number (SSN) on the form AR-11 is that they do not need the number. USCIS tracks aliens by A-number, not by SSN. USCIS does not intend to implement this recommendation. USCIS believes that identity theft and other security concerns pose a risk that make it inadvisable for the agency to maintain information it doesn't need for its own purposes.

    Recommendation: In order 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 provide a field on change of address forms that an alien can use to report a Social Security Number or indicate that they do not have one, with the appropriate notifications and safeguards required by law.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS officials told us in February 2007 that, rather than stating the implications of noncompliance in the negative, they wanted to send a positive message. Therefore, the "Terms and Conditions" page of USCIS's web site states the importance of complying with the change of address requirement. This was a positive effort, but it does not meet the intent of the recommendation. Since USCIS has no further plans along these lines, the recommendation is being closed.

    Recommendation: In order 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 revise INS's operating instructions to make clear that noncompliance with address reporting requirements can be the sole basis for removal, as provided at 8 U.S.C. 1306(b).

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS officials told us in February 2007 that they had responded to the part of the recommendation that was within their control. Specifically, anytime a non-citizen "touches" USCIS, USCIS will have an electronic fingerprint. This notwithstanding, it would be difficult for USCIS to assert that the data are 100% reliable. In addition, issuing a certificate of no record is an enforcement function that lies with another agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because GAO's work was done when immigration services and enforcement were within a single agency (the Immigration and Naturalization Service), and because those two functions are no longer within the same agency, this partially implemented recommendation is being closed.

    Recommendation: In order 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, in connection with updating automated databases, establish procedures and controls that permit INS to verify receipts of change of address records and issue a certificate of no record, when aliens do not comply with the change of address notification requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS took some actions that should help ensure that address information for many aliens is entered into relevant databases, but there remain gaps in the process, so this recommendation is being closed as not implemented.

    Recommendation: In order 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 establish written procedures and controls to ensure that alien address information in all automated databases is complete, consistent, accurate, and current.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: USCIS did a cost analysis for stocking the AR-11 forms at the U.S. Postal Service and found that it would cost over one million dollars for the displays, the printing of the revised forms, and for the USPS employees to restock the displays. Therefore, this recommendation will not be implemented. In lieu of placing AR-11 forms in post offices, USCIS signed a memorandum of understanding wherein USPS agreed to place a hyperlink to USCIS's AR-11 on its web site.

    Recommendation: In order 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 develop procedures for distributing change of address forms to include making arrangements with the U.S. Postal Service to provide for placing change of address forms in all post offices, as required by the Code of Federal Regulations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USCIS has taken multiple steps to implement this recommendation. Specifically: (1) In January 2007, USCIS launched a new web-based service allowing non-citizens to submit change of address information online. The on-line service is intended to offer a modern, comprehensive, and reliable way for aliens to update their addresses. By logging on to http://www.uscis.gov/AR-11, non-citizens are guided through several screens that provide explanation about the change of address process and includes the change of address form, AR-11, which can be submitted on-line. (2) By going to www.uscis.gov/addresschange users can also obtain information on such things as how to report a change of address, who must comply, what information to include, and penalties for failure to comply, and can access the change of address form, as well. (3) In May 2006, USCIS put a fact sheet on its web site providing detailed information in English and Spanish on the steps that various categories of aliens should take to notify USCIS of an address change. (4) In February 2007, the director of USCIS's Office of Records Management stated that she visited many field offices during her tenure, and encouraged local field leadership to work with local U. S. Postal Service offices to inform them about the Form AR-11 filing requirement. (5) In 2004, USCIS and the U.S. Postal Service signed a memorandum of understanding wherein USPS created a hyperlink on its web site that enables users to connect with USCIS's change of address form. (6) To promote awareness of the change of address filing requirement, USCIS also designed leaflets and posters for placement in Post Offices and USCIS customer service offices. We consider these steps to be responsive to GAO's recommendation and consider the recommendation to have been fully implemented.

    Recommendation: In order 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. As part of its publicity effort, INS should make sure that aliens have information on how to comply with this requirement, including where information may be available and the location of change of address forms.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to our recommendation that it evaluate alternative approaches and their associated costs for obtaining or assembling complete alien address information, USCIS explored the possibility of engaging in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Postal Service to place Forms AR-11 in post offices. USCIS conducted an analysis to determine how much it would cost to produce Form AR-11 displays, print forms, and have Postal Service employees do initial stocking and restocking of the displays. USCIS determined that these would cost over $1 million, and that this would be cost prohibitive for USCIS. In lieu of an MOU to display the Form AR-11 is post offices, the Postal Service placed a hyperlink on its web site to the Form AR-11. USCIS also implemented other alternative approaches, using both the Internet and manual distribution mechanisms, to publicize the change of address notification requirement and thereby assemble more complete alien address information.

    Recommendation: In order 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 evaluate alternative approaches and their associated costs for obtaining or assembling complete alien address information, particularly for those aliens who do not comply with the change of address notification requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: Directorate of Border and Transportation Security

 

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