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The Immigration and Naturalization Service's System Data Pertaining to Secondary Inspections at Selected Preclearance Airports

Report No. 01-11
March 20, 2001
Office of the Inspector General


The Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) inspection program at airports relies daily on INS inspection data maintained in the Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). 1 Inspectors review travel history data, including the results of prior inspections, when determining the admissibility of persons seeking entry into the United States. Additionally, other federal entities and INS programs, such as intelligence and counterterrorism, rely on these data to conduct some of their law enforcement responsibilities. For example, according to the Acting Assistant Commissioner for Inspections, the INS worked closely with the U.S. Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) following the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to reconstruct events that resulted in the terrorists entering the United States.

Our audit focused on the INS's system data pertaining to secondary inspections - inspections of travelers who require a more detailed review than the standard inspection. Our primary objective was to determine whether the INS's data in TECS accurately reflected referrals of travelers to secondary and included secondary inspection results. We assessed data for three sites—the preclearance airports at Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. 2 According to INS statistics, these sites performed approximately 106,000 secondary inspections during FY 2000, or approximately 76 percent of the secondary inspection activity at all preclearance airports and about 10 percent of the secondary activity at all air ports of entry.

Our tests showed that the INS's data in TECS for the inspections performed at Montreal and Vancouver were reliable; i.e., in general, inspectors accurately designated whether travelers were referred to secondary and routinely recorded the results of secondary inspections in TECS. However, the TECS data for the inspections at Toronto were unreliable. Toronto's inspectors entered the required referral designation and secondary inspection results in TECS for only 3 percent of the approximately 51,000 secondary inspections performed during the audit period. Instead, the inspectors primarily entered the data in the port's stand-alone inspections tracking system. When inspectors do not enter travelers' referrals and secondary inspection results in the INS's centralized inspections system, inspectors determining the admissibility of those travelers when they again seek entry into the United States will not have the benefit of accurate and complete travel history information. The lack of reliable data could also jeopardize other INS law enforcement efforts, including the INS's ability to provide assistance to other federal entities.

During our analyses of the TECS data, we noted some material inconsistencies between the data and the INS's official statistics for the secondary inspection workload at Vancouver. Therefore, we expanded our audit tests to assess whether the statistics compiled from monthly port of entry data transmissions accurately reflected the number of secondary inspections performed. Such statistics are used by INS managers to evaluate field office performance and make operational decisions.

Our tests identified that the INS's statistics for the number of secondary inspections performed at Montreal and Toronto were reliable. However, the statistics for Vancouver significantly overstated the number of secondary inspections performed. As a result, INS management should be aware that reliance on those statistics could lead to poor decision making.

We discussed our results, conclusions, and recommendations with the INS port directors at Toronto and Vancouver and INS Headquarters officials from the Office of Inspections and Office of Field Operations. Additionally, we provided draft copies of this report to the INS. The INS concurred with all of our recommendations and provided comments on the actions completed and planned to implement the recommendations.

Additional information on our audit objectives, scope, and methodology is described in Appendix I. Background information on the immigration inspection process is provided in the Introduction section. The details of our work are contained in the Findings and Recommendations section. The INS's comments on the recommendations are in Appendix II, and our summary of the actions needed to close the audit is in Appendix III.


  1. TECS, which was developed and is maintained by the Customs Service (U.S. Department of the Treasury), is a mainframe-based enforcement and inspection support system used by Customs, INS, and other federal agencies. The system was developed to store information about people who are of interest to law enforcement agencies so that their entry into the United States may be monitored or, if necessary, prevented. TECS supports the INS's inspection activities and, thus, contains inspection data on travelers who have entered or attempted to enter the United States.

  2. Preclearance is the full inspection at foreign ports of U.S.-bound travelers and their luggage for immigration, customs, public health, and agriculture purposes. Travelers who are precleared are able to enter the United States without undergoing any other clearance checks upon their arrival. Preclearance decreases the inspection workload at U.S. airports and allows inspectors to detect inadmissible persons prior to their arrival in the United States. As of the end of FY 2000, preclearance was operating at 11 airports, 7 of which were in Canada. The remaining 4 preclearance airports were in Aruba, Bermuda, and the Bahamas (2 airports).