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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 it admitted 43.1 million alien passengers into the inspection areas at 159 airports. Section 233 of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (Act) requires every transportation line carrying aliens to the United States to provide and maintain, at their expense, suitable landing stations approved by the Attorney General. As stated in 8 CFR Part 234, the INS Commissioner is authorized to designate which airports may receive aliens and thus serve as international ports of entry. Airports so designated must provide adequate facilities for the proper inspection and disposition of aliens, including office space and temporary detention facilities. The Commissioner is also authorized to withdraw an airport's designation as a landing station if, in the Commissioner's judgment, there is just cause for such action.  
Federal inspection agencies operating at airports include the INS, U.S. Customs Service (Treasury), Public Health Service (Health and Human Services), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (Agriculture), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Interior). The inspection agencies specify what facilities must be provided, which include offices, inspection booths, conveyors, x-ray systems, and other equipment necessary to monitor, control, and operate inspection facilities. The space provided is called the Federal Inspection Services (FIS) area. Although it has no authority over airport construction, the INS, along with the other inspection agencies, approves the design of inspection facilities. Accordingly, inspection areas under the INS's control must have security policies and procedures that prevent arriving passengers from circumventing the inspection process. Photo of the Primary Inspection Area, [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED]
Photo of the Primary Inspection Area,
INS inspectors must determine an alien's eligibility to enter the United States. If an alien's eligibility is questionable, inspectors are to refer them to a secondary processing area where inspectors conduct interviews and further examine the alien's travel documents. If needed, inspectors should detain the alien in a hold room - a secure confinement room where persons are held temporarily pending further investigation or transfer to another facility. All ports of entry must have inspection areas, interview rooms, and hold rooms of adequate size, design, and construction.

Prior to February 2002, the most important design, construction and security requirements were contained in the following Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and INS publications and policy memoranda:

  • Federal Aviation Administration's Planning and Design Guidelines for Airport Terminal Facilities, 1988 Edition (FAA 1988 Guidelines).
  • Hold Room Design Standards. Published in January 1993.
  • Federal Aviation Administration's Planning and Design Guidelines for Airport Terminal Facilities, 1994 Edition (FAA 1994 Guidelines).
  • Airport Federal Inspection Facilities Guidelines, 1994 Edition (1994 Guidelines).
  • Secondary Detention Procedures at Ports-of-Entry. A policy memorandum issued by the INS in August 1996.
  • Things to Look For in the Design of Inspection Facilities at Airports, Seaports, and Ferryports. Published by the INS in February 1999.
  • Federal Inspection Services' Airport Facility Guidelines, 2000 Edition (2000 Guidelines).
  • Airport Border Integrity Antiterrorism Program Overview (Overview). Published in 1999 by the INS.

In February 2002 the INS published the Air Ports-of-Entry Technical Requirements (ATR) with technical assistance from the INS's Offices of Inspections, Facilities and Engineering, Operations, Information Resource Management, and Security. These requirements were published to assist architects, engineers, and planners in designing, building and renovating INS inspection facilities at international airports. The ATR includes requirements found in earlier publications as well as newly promulgated requirements for the secondary inspection area, interview rooms, search rooms, Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC)/INS Coordination Center (ICC), and in-transit lounges (ITL). In February 2002, the INS provided the finalized ATR to the Air Transport Association, American Association of Airport Executives, and Airports Council International.

At our exit conference with the INS, a headquarters Office of Facilities and Engineering official commented that the ATR is used as a yardstick to measure airport compliance with standards. An INS headquarters official also commented that the INS is responsible for border integrity not airport security. 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 FIS area to maintain border integrity.

Prior Audit Results

In 1999, at the INS's request we conducted an audit of airport inspection and detention facilities (Immigration and Naturalization Service's Airport Inspection Facilities, Report No. 01-03, December 2000). The audit found that inspection areas at 42 international airports were poorly designed and constructed, and had numerous monitoring, surveillance, and communication deficiencies. Hold rooms were too small and did not permit separate confinement of male, female, and juvenile detainees. As a result, airports were vulnerable to illegal entry, escapes, injuries, health hazards, and the hiding or disposing of contraband or documents.

These conditions existed primarily because the INS had not dealt effectively with airlines and airport authorities by enforcing provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act when inspection facilities were unacceptable. We found that the INS had not pursued a program to require upgrading of older inspection facilities, construction took place without the INS's oversight or approval, and the INS's system of on-site reviews needed improvement. In addition, the INS did not have performance measures under the Government Performance and Results Act to measure the adequacy of inspection facilities. Also, by not exercising its authority to impose sanctions where necessary, including restriction of landing station designations, the INS undermined its ability to influence airlines and airport authorities to meet standards.

Our Follow-up Audit

We initiated this follow-up audit because of the significance and number of deficiencies found during the prior audit and the INS's lack of progress in taking corrective action. Also, the increased importance of the INS's mission regarding the integrity of our borders added to the urgency of performing this audit. Our audit objectives were to determine whether: (1) the INS took timely action to implement the recommendations from the December 2000 report, and (2) actions taken resulted in improvements at the airports we identified as having the most serious deficiencies.

In May 2002, we began our follow-up audit work at the INS headquarters, where we interviewed officials to determine what actions the INS took to implement the recommendations outlined in the prior audit report. We reviewed the INS's latest design and construction standards contained in its recently published ATR. We incorporated, as appropriate, elements from the ATR into a review checklist used to conduct our audit. Examples of features we reviewed are: (1) audible and visual alarms at emergency exits; (2) closed circuit television between access portals and the Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC); (3) absence of hiding places in corridors; (4) arrival gates configured to ensure that passengers and crew cannot circumvent the inspection process; (5) hold rooms with secure walls and ceilings, (6) interview rooms with emergency call buttons and equipment to record the results of interviews; and (7) command centers with up-to-date communications equipment to monitor and respond to alarms within the FIS area; and (8) in-transit lounges with cameras, locks, and alarms to prevent aliens from escaping.

We performed on-site follow-up reviews at 12 international airports to determine the extent of any modifications resulting from our prior audit. The 12 airports we reviewed (Appendix I, page 20) account for [SENSITIVE INFORMATION DELETED] percent of the international passengers processed through secondary inspection areas during 2001.