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Follow-Up Audit of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's Airport Inspection Facilities

Report No. 03-10
January 2003
Office of the Inspector General


According to Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) records, during fiscal year 2001 the INS processed 43.1 million alien passengers through Federal Inspection Services (inspection) areas at 159 airports. The INS designates which airports may receive international passengers, based on whether individual airlines and airport authorities furnish suitable landing stations in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Act). The INS is authorized to withdraw such designations if circumstances warrant.

The INS, along with other federal inspection agencies, approves the design of inspection areas. At the INS's request, we conducted an audit of inspection areas at international airports during 1999. We conducted on-site reviews at 12 airports and received surveys from INS staff at 30 additional airports. Our audit found deficiencies at all 42 airports reviewed. Inspection areas were poorly designed and had numerous monitoring, surveillance, and communication deficiencies. Hold rooms were too small and did not permit separate confinement of male, females, and juvenile detainees. As a result, airports were vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, and the hiding or disposing of contraband and documents. We recommended that the INS take steps to correct the deficiencies and improve the condition of its inspection facilities.

We initiated this follow-up audit because of the severity and number of deficiencies found during the 1999 audit, and because of the INS's difficulty in taking effective corrective action. The increased importance of the INS's mission regarding the security of our borders added to the urgency of performing this audit. Our prior audit recommendations and the actions the INS took in response to them are detailed in the Findings and Recommendations section of this report.

In May 2002, we began our follow-up audit work at INS headquarters, where we interviewed officials to determine what actions the INS took to implement the recommendations outlined in the prior audit report. We also performed on-site follow-up reviews at 12 international airports. The 12 airports we reviewed (Appendix I, page 20) account for about [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] percent of the international passengers processed through secondary inspection areas during 2001. The secondary inspection area is where passengers may be referred for additional interviews, further examination of documents, processing of additional documents, or placement into hold rooms.

We found that the INS took insufficient action to implement the prior audit recommendations. It had not communicated needed improvements to airlines and airport authorities, and it had not developed a program to review existing facilities. Nor did we find that the INS successfully applied sanctions1 against airlines for failing to provide suitable facilities. Further, the INS did not develop performance measures related to the improvement of airport inspection area facilities. Moreover, we found that the INS had not even advised its own airport staff of the results of the prior audit.

Thus, we found that all 12 airports reviewed in this follow-up audit had both repeat deficiencies and deficiencies based on the new requirements. For example, airports did not have emergency exits with both a local alarm and an alarm generated at a central location, had no intercoms between access control points and the command center, had no way for primary inspectors to contact the command center, and had hold room doors that could not be easily unlocked by INS staff during an emergency. We found evidence of escapes and injuries that occurred because these deficiencies had not been corrected.

We also found additional deficiencies not previously identified.2 For example, secondary inspection areas did not have adequate camera coverage, interview rooms did not have a system to video record interviews, and not all gates leading in and out of the in-transit lounge had camera coverage. Further, security systems and equipment were ineffective. [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] of 12 airports we reviewed during the current audit either did not test security and communications systems or testing was not adequate. We found inoperable alarms and cameras, and security features that had been turned off, were not monitored, or had not been installed.

We concluded that the underlying causes for these deficiencies were rooted in perceptions held by INS officials regarding airport facilities. They considered that airport security is not a primary responsibility of the INS. Thus, INS staff were unaware that exits were unsecured, and locks, alarms, and cameras were inoperable. However, according to the ATR, the INS has the responsibility to ensure that there are adequate countermeasures in place within the physical security system of the Federal Inspection Services area to maintain border integrity. Also, INS officials believed that the airline lobby was so powerful that the INS would be unable to exert its authority to impose sanctions when airlines or airport authorities did not furnish adequate facilities. And finally, INS officials did not think that poor facilities were related to serious consequences. INS staff did not believe that escapes, assaults, or injuries resulted from inadequacies in facilities.

By not addressing the risks associated with poor facilities and exercising its authority to impose sanctions where necessary, the INS continued to undermine its ability to influence airlines and airport authorities to meet standards. As a result, airports continue to be vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, and smuggling of aliens and contraband into the United States.

The details of our work are contained in the Finding and Recommendations section of the report.3 Our audit objectives, scope, and methodology are contained in Appendix I. A glossary of terms used in the report is contained in Appendix II, and the locations where specific deficiencies were noted are contained in Appendix III.


  1. Sanctions could range from prohibiting an airline from using a particular gate, to prohibiting the airline from deplaning passengers anywhere at the airport.
  2. The construction requirements INS published in February 2002 cover areas not addressed in its earlier publications or reviewed during the prior audit.
  3. As part of our audit process, we asked INS headquarters to furnish us with a signed management representation letter containing assurances that our staff were provided with all necessary documents and that no irregularities exist that we were not informed about. As of the date of issuance of this report, the INS has declined to sign the letter. Therefore, our findings are qualified to the extent that we may not have been provided with all relevant information by INS management.