Overstay Enforcement:

Additional Mechanisms for Collecting, Assessing, and Sharing Data Could Strengthen DHS's Efforts but Would Have Costs

GAO-11-411: Published: Apr 15, 2011. Publicly Released: May 3, 2011.

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According to Pew Hispanic Center estimates, approximately 4 million to 5.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States entered the country legally on a temporary basis but then overstayed their authorized periods of admission--referred to as overstays. As requested, GAO examined the extent to which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) (1) takes action to address overstays and its reported results; and (2) identifies overstays and shares this information among its border security and immigration enforcement components. GAO reviewed relevant documents, such as standard operating procedures, DHS guidance, and overstay investigations data from fiscal years 2006 through 2010; interviewed officials from DHS components; and visited 6 DHS field offices and 12 ports of entry based on geographic dispersion, among other factors. The results of these visits are not generalizable, but provided insights into DHS operations.

DHS takes actions to address a small portion of the estimated overstay population due to, among other things, competing priorities; however, these efforts could be enhanced by improved planning and performance management. Since fiscal year 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the principle DHS component responsible for overstay enforcement, has allocated about 3 percent of its investigative work hours to overstay investigations and its Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU), which prioritizes and investigates possible overstays, has arrested approximately 8,100 overstays. ICE is considering assigning some responsibility for noncriminal overstay enforcement to its Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) directorate, which has responsibility for apprehending and removing illegal aliens from the United States. However, ERO does not plan to assume this responsibility until ICE assesses the funding and resources doing so would require. ICE has not established a time frame for completing this assessment. By developing such a time frame and utilizing the assessment findings, as appropriate, ICE could strengthen its planning efforts and be better positioned to hold staff accountable for completing the assessment. In addition, CTCEU does not have mechanisms to assess program performance in accordance with leading performance management practices. By establishing such mechanisms, CTCEU could better ensure that managers have information to assist in making decisions for strengthening overstay enforcement efforts and assessing performance against CTCEU's goals. In the absence of a biometric entry and exit system, DHS uses various methods for identifying overstays, primarily biographic data, and sharing of overstay information; however, DHS faces challenges in collecting departure data and does not share information about all categories of suspected overstays among its components. For example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the DHS component charged with inspecting all people who enter the United States, does not provide a standard mechanism for nonimmigrants departing the United States through land ports of entry to remit their arrival and departure forms. These forms contain information, such as arrival and departure dates, used by DHS to identify overstays. CBP officials stated that establishing such a mechanism could help the agency increase its collection of departure data, but could also result in costs related to, for example, physical modifications to land ports of entry. If the benefits outweigh the costs, such a mechanism could help DHS obtain more complete and reliable departure data for identifying overstays. DHS also shares overstay information among its components through various mechanisms. For example, DHS creates electronic alerts for certain categories of overstays, such as those who overstay by more than 90 days, but does not create alerts for those who overstay by less than 90 days to focus efforts on more egregious overstay violators, as identified by CBP. Expanding the categories of overstays assigned an alert to the extent that benefits outweigh costs could improve the chance that these individuals are identified as overstays during subsequent encounters with federal officials, such as when they apply for readmission to the United States. GAO recommends, among other things, that DHS establish a time frame for completing overstay enforcement planning, performance measurement mechanisms, and, if benefits outweigh costs, a mechanism for collecting departure forms at land borders and alerts for additional categories of overstays. DHS concurred with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Department of Homeland Security informed GAO that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had undertaken an assessment of the funding and resources Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) would require, and that the assessment would include a 120-day pilot program in Los Angeles focused on identification, location, arrest, and removal of non-immigrant visa violators. In July 2012, ICE informed GAO that ERO completed this pilot in June 2011 and analyzed the results. In particular, ERO analyzed the results of the pilot to determine the number of government and contracted staff ERO would require to deploy non immigrant visa violator teams over a 5-year period and associated costs, and the number of violators the teams would likely arrest each year. As a result of this assessment and pilot study, ICE should be better positioned to determine the costs and benefits of transferring additional overstay enforcement responsibilities to ERO.

    Recommendation: To help ICE's execution of overstay enforcement efforts; and improve assessment of ICE programs that identify and address overstays so that program adjustments can be made, if necessary; the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement should establish a target time frame for assessing the funding and resources ERO would require in order to assume responsibility for civil overstay enforcement and use the results of that assessment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2012, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) notified GAO that the Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) had initiated a review of its performance measurement and performance management processes and engaged a specialist to help guide this effort. According to ICE, the review was intended to address the need for outcome-oriented performance measurement and for metrics capable of assessing the quality of overstay leads CTCEU generates. As of March 2014, ICE is in the process of collecting baseline data before setting targets for these measures. According to ICE officials, ICE plans to collect data through November 2014 before setting targets for its outcome-based performance measures. Outcome-based performance information could provide CTCEU managers with information on which to base decisions for improving its efforts and performance to prevent terrorists and other criminals from exploiting the nation's immigration system.

    Recommendation: To help ICE's execution of overstay enforcement efforts; and improve assessment of ICE programs that identify and address overstays so that program adjustments can be made, if necessary; the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement should develop outcome-based performance measures--or proxy measures if program outcomes cannot be captured--and associated targets on CTCEU's progress in preventing terrorists and other criminals from exploiting the nation's immigration system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of March 2014, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has established two performance measures and associated targets for measuring the quality of overstay leads that ICE's Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit (CTCEU) generates. These two measures assess (1) the frequency with which overstay leads sent to the field are resulting in arrests and (2) the frequency with which overstay leads sent to the field are closed and categorized as "all leads exhausted." Assessing lead quality through these performance measures and striving to meet the established targets could help ICE ensure that it is focusing its field office resources on more promising overstay investigations.

    Recommendation: To help ICE's execution of overstay enforcement efforts; and improve assessment of ICE programs that identify and address overstays so that program adjustments can be made, if necessary; the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement should develop a performance measure for assessing the quality of leads CTCEU assigns to ICE field offices for investigations, using performance information already collected by CTCEU.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, CBP reported that it planned to have an independent evaluation performed of all possible solutions for developing a standard mechanism for collecting I-94/I-94W forms at land ports of entry that would assess costs, benefits, and other aspects of each solution, and include a ranking of possible solutions. According to CBP, this evaluation would be presented to CBP senior management for consideration, and CBP senior management would formulate an action plan for implementation. In July 2012, CBP reported that it had obtained an independent evaluation and was reviewing it to identify the benefits and risks with associated costs to a standardized mechanism. According to CBP, its Office of Field Operations, Admissibility and Passenger Programs-Land Border Integration planned to conclude this review by September 30, 2012. In October 2012, CBP provided GAO with the independent evaluation it obtained, which analyzed alternatives of potential solutions for collecting I-94/I-94W forms at land ports of entry. For example, the report considered the costs and benefits of implementing lock boxes and passive scanners. CBP reported that its senior leadership reviewed the report and determined that CBP should pursue budget neutral outreach enhancements as a short term strategy to enhance the collection of I-94/I-94W forms. CBP elaborated that, given the austere budget environment, it determined that making significant investments in collecting paper I-94/I-94W forms at the land border would be imprudent, especially as it is reviewing and pursuing initiatives to automate the I-94. Therefore, it will not move forward with developing a standard mechanism for collecting paper I-94/I-94W forms at land ports of entry at this time. These actions meet the intent of our recommendation and this recommendation is therefore closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To increase the completeness of exit information available for the purpose of identifying overstays, the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection should analyze the costs and benefits of developing a standard mechanism for collecting I-94/I-94W forms at land ports of entry (POEs), and develop a standard mechanism to collect these forms, to the extent that benefits outweigh the costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security: United States Customs and Border Protection

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported that the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had met to assess the costs and benefits of creating these lookouts. NPPD estimated that creating biometric and biographic lookouts for in-country overstay leads would require an additional 7 full time equivalents at a cost of about $386,000 annually, which the directorate determined it could not absorb within current resources. In addition, NPPD estimated that it would require .33 full time equivalents to create the additional out-of-country overstay biographic and biometric lookouts at an annual cost of just over $18,000, which it determined it could absorb within current resources. As a result, DHS reported that NPPD would begin creating biographic and biometric lookouts for out-of-country overstays of 90 days or less. Creating these additional out-of-country biographic and biometric lookouts should improve CBP's ability to identify overstays during the inspection process, and by extension, better position it to take enforcement action to address overstay violators attempting to re-enter the United States. As a result, this recommendation is closed as implemented.

    Recommendation: To improve information sharing in support of efforts to identify and take enforcement action against overstays, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the Under Secretary of the National Protection and Programs Directorate, and the Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to assess the costs and benefits of creating biometric and biographic lookouts for (1) out-of-country overstays of 90 days or less who entered the country using nonimmigrant business and pleasure visas, and (2) in-country overstay leads sent to ERO, and create these lookouts, to the extent that the benefits of doing so outweigh the costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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