The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued its report entitled "Border Patrol Efforts Along the Northern Border" to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on February 18, 2000. That report was designated as a "Limited Official Use" document, requiring restricted distribution,because it identifies significant and specific gaps in the INS's northern border operations and could compromise the safety of Border Patrol Agents stationed along the northern border. For this reason, the OIG created the version of the report that follows, extracting sensitive information. Although this version does not expose the specific weaknesses of northern border security, it draws a general picture of the increasing illegal activity along the northern border and the limited resources available to address that activity.
Border Patrol Efforts Along the Northern Border
Report Number I-2000-04
Since its creation in 1924, the Border Patrol has operated with the following mission: to detect and prevent the smuggling and illegal entry of undocumented aliens into the United States and to apprehend persons in the United States whose status is in violation of immigration law. In 1991, the Office of National Drug Control Policy designated the Border Patrol with primary responsibility for the interdiction of drugs on U.S. land borders between the ports of entry.
This inspection examined the Border Patrol's efforts, in its eight northern sectors, to control illegal activity between the ports of entry along the border between the United States and Canada. We focused on the following areas:
- identifying what illegal activity occurs along the northern border,
- determining how the Border Patrol collects and assesses information about illegal activity and how the Border Patrol responds to it, and
- evaluating the allocation of Border Patrol resources to the northern border.
Border Patrol Strategic Plan
In 1994, the Border Patrol issued its Border Patrol Strategic Plan 1994 and Beyond. This plan outlines four phases for controlling U.S. borders, beginning with the areas experiencing the greatest illegal activity:
- Phase I - Control San Diego and El Paso Corridors
- Phase II - Control South Texas and Tucson Corridors
- Phase III - Control Remainder of Southwest Border
- Phase IV - Control all the United States Borders/Adjust to Flow
There are no specific goals to be achieved in each phase of the plan and no target dates for completing one phase or beginning another. The plan dictates that when the Border Patrol achieves control in one area--"control" is not specifically defined but largely indicated by an increase in the flow of illegal traffic to other areas--it will move on to the next phase of the plan. According to headquarters officials, the Border Patrol is currently engaged in Phase II, for the most part, although some Phase I operations continue as necessary. Efforts to secure the northern border are part of Phase IV, which, based on the current strategic plan, has no projected start date.
The Border Patrol's strategic plan recognizes that as Border Patrol Agents (BPAs) curtail illegal activity in one area, such activity will increase in other areas. This scenario has played out across the southwest, and now signs indicate that illegal activity being thwarted on the southwest border is beginning to crop up along the northern border.
Border Patrol staffing
The nearly 4,000 miles of border between the United States and Canada are managed by 8 of the Border Patrol's 21 sectors. As of September 30, 1999, 311 of the national total of 8,364 BPAs (3.7 percent) were assigned to northern border sectors. In keeping with its strategic plan, the Border Patrol deploys the majority of BPAs to the approximately 2,000-mile southwest border. In FY 1999, 7,706 BPAs (92.1 percent of total BPAs) were assigned to the 9 southwest Border Patrol sectors (76 stations). The remaining 347 BPAs were assigned to the coastal sectors, headquarters, INS regional offices, and the Border Patrol Academy.
The number of BPAs nationwide has increased significantly since the enactment of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which authorized the deployment of an additional 1,000 BPAs a year for each of the four years beginning with FY 1995. (The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 contained language that mandated these increases through FY 2001.) From FY 1995 through FY 1998, all additional BPAs were allocated to the southwest border. In FY 1999, at the direction of Congress, 22 additional BPAs were allocated to the northern border.
RESULTS OF THE INSPECTION
Border Patrol sectors on the Canadian border face significant law enforcement challenges, even though the volume of known illegal alien and drug trafficking is much less than it is along the Mexican border. Between FY 1993 and FY 1998, the Border Patrol's eight northern sectors apprehended 81,285 deportable individuals, including 5,704 smuggled aliens. In addition, the northern sectors apprehended 4,384 non-deportable individuals--legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens--for criminal activity (e.g., alien smuggling). These statistics quantify the successes of the Border Patrol. However, they do not provide an indication of the nature or extent of illegal activity that goes undetected due to limited staffing and resources.
Although the numbers of incidents is low, BPAs in the northern border sectors experience organized criminal activity more often than BPAs along the southwest border. According to Border Patrol workload data (G-23 data) for FY 1993 through FY 1998, the BPAs in northern border sectors were 14 times as likely to encounter an alien involved with smuggling weapons and 9 times as likely to encounter an alien involved with smuggling drugs when compared to BPAs in southwest sectors. (1)
Illegal activity along the northern border is facilitated by the fact that it is an open border and one that includes unpatrolled waterways and vast stretches of wilderness with little enforcement presence. Border Patrol officials report that smuggling activity along the northern border goes in both directions, with smugglers often moving a different commodity in each direction. Besides illegal aliens, illicit trade includes drugs, guns, currency, and other contraband.
BPAs and other law enforcement officers we interviewed and intelligence reports we reviewed indicated that illegal activity along the northern border--illegal immigration, alien smuggling, drug trafficking--is increasing. In addition to the illegal activity that is detected, Border Patrol and INS officials believe a great deal of illegal activity goes undetected because there are not enough BPAs to monitor it and there is only limited surveillance equipment available to detect it.
THE BORDER PATROL FACES INCREASING ILLEGAL ACTIVITY ALONG THE NORTHERN BORDER
Illegal immigration and alien smuggling
Many of the BPAs we interviewed stated that illegal activity along the northern border is increasing. INS's 1997 Anti-Smuggling Strategy document states that "[i]ntelligence information suggests that use of the Northern border by smuggling organizations is on the rise." (2) In general, the document says, alien smuggling operations are growing in volume and sophistication. The Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, an organization that coordinates intelligence gathering efforts of several Canadian law enforcement agencies, stated in its 1998 annual report (available on the Internet) that many illegal aliens use Canada as a transit point on their way to the United States. In many cases, their entry into Canada is facilitated by the fact that they do not need a visa to enter Canada. (3) Northern Border Patrol sectors have identified trends in illegal immigration and alien smuggling operations, including an influx of nationals from China, South Korea, and Mexico crossing the border illegally.
- In December 1998, a joint operation, led by INS investigators and involving law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada, broke up a smuggling ring that for two years had used the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory in New York to smuggle approximately 3,600 undocumented Chinese nationals into the United States. (4) According to INS, smugglers charged individuals as much as $47,000 each to transport them from China and get them jobs, mainly in New York City. The smugglers may have netted as much as $170 million. As a result of the investigation, 35 suspected smugglers were arrested, and warrants were issued for 12 others.
- South Koreans and Mexicans are not required to obtain a visa to enter Canada. Consequently, increasing numbers of citizens of both countries are traveling to Canada and later illegally entering the United States.
- The porous nature of the border, coupled with limited enforcement, reduces the likelihood of interdiction between the ports of entry. Therefore, as noted by various intelligence sources, drug smugglers have targeted the northern border. Border Patrol officials report that smugglers simply walk across the border in remote areas, carrying drugs in backpacks, or use all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles to transport their illicit cargo. Along the northern border, BPAs face a number of drug interdiction challenges.
- Canada produces at least 800 metric tons (881.6 U.S. tons) of marijuana annually. (5) Most of that is hydroponic marijuana with a THC content of 20 to 30 percent, which, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reports, can sell for as much as $6,000 a pound. (6) (In contrast, Mexican marijuana has a lower THC content, usually ranging between 0.5 and 7 percent, and sells for about $700 a pound.) A large percentage of the hydroponic marijuana grown in Canada is destined for sale in the United States.
- At least 70 percent of the estimated 16 to 26 tons of cocaine smuggled into Canada annually is destined for the United States, according to the RCMP.
- Various intelligence sources report that heroin from Asia is being shipped by organized crime groups to Vancouver, British Columbia. From Vancouver, heroin is transported to various parts of the United States (e.g., Seattle and New York City). Heroin is prevalent throughout Canada, and law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border are concerned because they have detected decreasing prices for heroin and increasing purity of the heroin available. These factors increase the severity of the heroin problem.
- The Canadian government has placed no legal controls upon the precursor chemicals that are used to manufacture methamphetamine. These substances, which are being bought in large quantities with cash and under assumed names, are then smuggled across the border into the United States for use in clandestine methamphetamine labs.
INS IS UNABLE TO ASSESS THE LEVEL OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITY ALONG THE NORTHERN BORDER
Because the Border Patrol lacks the resources to monitor illegal activity along the northern border, it cannot accurately quantify how many illegal aliens and drug smugglers it fails to apprehend. The number of BPAs available simply cannot patrol the entire length of the border. "Force-multipliers," such as cameras and sensors, aid the Border Patrol in its surveillance and interdiction activities, but the northern border sectors do not have adequate amounts of such equipment. For example, at the time of our inspection, one northern border sector had identified 65 smuggling corridors along the more than 300 miles of border within its area of responsibility. However, the sector had only 36 sensors with which to monitor those corridors.
Existing data do not provide an accurate measurement of illegal activity
INS officials indicated to us that INS's only official data are those supplied by its Office of Statistics, such as the G-23 data we obtained. In addition, INS officials indicated that the G-23 data are the principal measurement tools used by INS. These data indicate that the number of alien apprehensions along the northern border dropped 7 percent between FY 1994 and FY 1998. In addition, the number of non-deportable individuals apprehended, the incidences of drugs seized, the number of alien smugglers located, and other key measures of illegal activity have all declined during this same period.
The G-23 data do not provide an accurate picture of illegal activity along the northern border. According to INS officials, the G-23 data are collected mainly to track workload activities, which reduces their value for intelligence purposes. INS officials described to us other shortcomings of the data, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Workload focus: The G-23 data track workload activities (e.g., the number of hours BPAs spent on border control) and the results of those activities (e.g., number of aliens apprehended). Consequently, the G-23 data are affected by the number of hours BPAs spent on certain activities and do not provide an accurate measure of overall illegal activity. For example, the number of apprehensions reported for the northern border sectors decreased when BPAs were detailed away from northern sectors to work on the southwest border. In other words, the reduction in apprehensions may reflect a reduction in BPAs rather than a drop in crime.
- Influence of outside factors: As a measure of workload activities, the G23 data are heavily influenced by changes in how the work is performed. For example, the Border Patrol recently revised its enforcement strategy, placing greater emphasis on direct border control, where BPAs concentrate efforts on preventing aliens from crossing the border, rather than on interior enforcement, where multiple aliens can be apprehended at a single home or work site. Border Patrol officials with whom we spoke believe this accounts for the 21 percent drop in apprehensions from FY 1997 to FY 1998 for the northern border sectors.
BORDER PATROL'S CAPACITY TO RESPOND IS DISPROPORTIONATE TO THE AMOUNT OF ILLEGAL ACTIVITY
Data that do exist indicate that, at current staffing levels, illegal activity exceeds the Border Patrol's capacity to respond. Northern border sectors use various methods to track their ability to respond to illegal activity, including the following:
- Sensor hits: Many northern border sectors have only recently begun to track their rate of response to sensor hits, and the amount of data available varies widely. (7) However, the data we collected clearly indicates that the northern border sectors are unable to respond to all of their sensor hits.
- Border Activity Reporting: Some northern border sectors have begun using a Border Activity Reporting system, dividing the sectors into grids and tracking intrusions, responses, apprehensions, and enforcement hours. Using this system, one northern border sector concluded that it is not able to successfully patrol remote areas of the border at current manpower levels. That sector also reported that, in its preliminary efforts to identify corridors of entry along the northern border, it discovered that cross-border activity was greater than previously estimated.
- Cameras: Camera footage can be used to analyze situations when BPAs were unable to respond to illegal activity. For example, one northern border sector reviews the output from its cameras and compares the number of illegal crossings recorded when no BPA was able to respond with the number of incidents in which a BPA responded to activity picked up by the cameras and made apprehensions. After making these comparisons, the sector assessed itself to be only six to seven percent effective at its current staffing level.
Allocation of BPAs to northern sectors showed no increase until FY 1999
Even though the total number of BPAs nationwide has steadily increased since 1994, the number of BPAs on the northern border actually declined for three years due to attrition and to the lack of money to cover moving expenses of BPAs who might otherwise have relocated to the northern border to fill a vacancy there. No new BPA positions were allocated to northern sectors until FY 1999.
Northern border sectors have shifts with no coverage
Shifts with no Border Patrol coverage leave the northern border wide open to criminal activity. Intelligence officers told us that criminals monitor the Border Patrol's radio communications and observe their actions. These criminals know the times when the fewest BPAs are on duty, and they plan their illegal operations accordingly. The Border Patrol realizes this risk, but, because of the low numbers of BPAs in northern border sectors, the Border Patrol simply cannot cover all shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Most sector officials we interviewed believed around-the-clock coverage was the minimum acceptable level of coverage for Border Patrol stations.)
The lack of coverage for some shifts not only affects the Border Patrol's ability to make apprehensions, it also limits the Border Patrol's ability to observe and record the level of illegal activity that occurs. Some of the sectors are aware of illegal activity but do not have enough BPAs to monitor it. For example, BPAs in one northern border sector identified a possible alien and drug smuggling organization along the border but reported that, because of a lack of technological resources (i.e. sensors, cameras, etc.) and the shortage of BPAs in the area, they could only conduct sporadic surveillance. Thus, they could not assess the suspects' organizational capabilities and intent to break the law.
Northern border sectors lack crucial equipment
Priorities set by the Border Patrol's strategic plan dictate that the needs of the southwest border come first when equipment is allocated. Although the northern border does receive some new equipment, several northern sectors have made requests year after year for equipment they still have not received. Throughout our inspection, northern border sector officials expressed needs for everything from better vehicles to more sensors. Because the needs of the various sectors are diverse and the availability of equipment somewhat dependent upon which region the sector falls in, we are highlighting only a few crosscutting needs here:
- Radios: A majority of the officials we interviewed--from INS regions, Border Patrol sectors, and other agencies--voiced the need for the Border Patrol to have secure radios because they believe smugglers and criminals are listening in on the Border Patrol's radio transmissions. That compromises enforcement operations and threatens officer safety. The Department of Justice has a plan for a consolidated Justice Wireless Network (JWN) that will provide secure communications for all Department components. According to the plan, all INS locations will have secure communications by the year 2005. The JWN plan supersedes previous INS plans for the installation of a secure radio network. At the time of our review, northern Border Patrol sectors were not aware of the JWN plan and implementation schedule.
- Cameras: Cameras have proven instrumental in identifying illegal activity and ensuring apprehensions (when BPAs are available to respond). All of the northern border sectors have requested cameras in their recent budget submissions. Some requests are for cameras where none currently exist and some are requests to replace antiquated equipment.
- Boats: Because of the number of waterways along the northern border, boats can be essential to the Border Patrol (e.g., Detroit and Buffalo sectors are responsible for border composed entirely of water). However, shortages of boats and other problems limit the Border Patrol's ability to patrol waterways along the border. Some stations that have waterways within their area of responsibility have no boats at all. Some sectors have boats that are inappropriate for the particular needs of the sector. For example, one northern sector is using is a speedboat that was seized in the Miami sector. Although the boat was retrofitted for law enforcement use, it is not ideally suited for the northern border waterways. At two of the stations in another northern sector, the boats in operation are old boats that had been taken out of service in other sectors, repaired, and sent to that sector. In one northern sector, the boat was out of service for FY 1997 and much of FY 1998 because it needed expensive repairs for which the sector had no funding.
Other factors affect the Border Patrol's enforcement capability
- Details: Virtually everyone we spoke with during our site visits, whether from the Border Patrol or from an outside entity (e.g., local police departments, the DEA, the RCMP), said that detailing BPAs from northern sectors to the southwest border to support the BPA-intensive operations there has had an adverse effect on operations in northern sectors. Because of the already small numbers of BPAs in northern sectors, detailing three or four BPAs significantly reduced a sector's staffing and sometimes caused a lack of coverage for entire shifts. It also caused a lack of continuity in organized enforcement operations.
- Lack of detention space: More often than not, once BPAs have processed apprehended aliens, they release the aliens pending a court date. (8) Releasing apprehended aliens is common practice because of shortages in detention space. Funding for detention is not under the Border Patrol's control, and the sectors' ability to detain apprehended aliens is often subject to restrictions placed on them by INS Districts. Many BPAs we spoke with expressed frustration with the inability to detain apprehended aliens, a practice referred to as the "catch and release program." Releasing so many aliens does not achieve the deterrence that the Border Patrol strives to promote.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We found that serious illegal activity--illegal immigration, alien smuggling, drug trafficking--is occurring along the northern border. And the level of illegal activity is likely much greater than the Border Patrol can document, given the general lack of intelligence information relating to the northern border and the limited number of BPAs available to patrol the area and collect intelligence information. Based on interviews with BPAs and other law enforcement officers, as well as intelligence reports we reviewed, we conclude that illegal activity is increasing along the northern border and that smuggling operations are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
The Border Patrol's Strategic Plan, issued in 1994, does not address the northern border until the fourth and final phase of the plan. Presently, the Border Patrol is in Phase II of its strategic plan and no date has been indicated for implementation of Phase IV. In addition, the plan does not articulate the strategies that the Border Patrol will use to control the "increased entries" it anticipates along the northern border once it has achieved control of the southwest border. Our findings suggest that Phase IV of the plan needs to be developed in greater detail to address the problems facing the northern border sectors. Securing the northern border requires careful planning, built upon reliable data, the knowledge and insights of individuals experienced in securing the northern border, as well as lessons the Border Patrol has learned while implementing the strategic plan on the southwest border. Therefore, we recommend that:
1. The INS Commissioner direct the Border Patrol to outline the approach it will take, prior to and during Phase IV, to secure the northern border.
3. The INS Commissioner evaluate whether there is a continuing need to detail BPAs out of northern sectors at the current levels.
INS concurred with all of the OIG's findings, as well as the two recommendations, and proposed corrective actions.
1. G-23 data is part of an INS system used to track workload statistics. From the G-23 data, we determined the percentage of apprehended individuals who exhibited selected characteristics (e.g., alien with weapon) for the eight northern border sectors and the nine sectors with responsibility for the land border with Mexico. We then divided the percentage for the northern border sectors by the percentage for the southwestern sectors. These calculations allowed us to determine how likely northern border sectors were to encounter a given characteristic (based on individuals apprehended) compared with the southwestern sectors.
2. A working group, directed by INS's Office of Field Operations and composed of representatives from the Border Patrol, Investigations, Intelligence, International Affairs, and Asset Forfeiture, drafted INS's national Anti-Smuggling Strategy to "disrupt the means and methods which facilitate alien smuggling utilizing traditional and non-traditional enforcement efforts."
3. Canada allows citizens of more than 50 countries to enter Canada without a visa. (The number fluctuates because Canada rescinds its visa waiver for a country when significant immigration abuse occurs.) The United States requires a visa for citizens of more than 20 of the 50 countries for which Canada has waived the visa requirement.
4. The Akwesasne Mohawk Territory straddles the border, flanked on one side by the state of New York and on the other by two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Quebec. This configuration raises questions of jurisdiction, which are compounded by the Mohawks' claims of sovereignty. Smugglers take advantage of the conflicting authorities. Besides illegal aliens, drugs, guns, and other contraband are also moved through the territory.
5. Drug Situation Canada, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Criminal Intelligence Directorate, March 1999. (Available on the Internet)
6. THC stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
7. Sensors are electronic devices that the Border Patrol places strategically along the border to monitor crossing activity. There are various kinds of sensors--some detect motion, some are sensitive to ground vibrations--but their common purpose is to signal an alert when persons or vehicles pass near them. (Animals can also set off a sensor.) Such an alert is called a hit.
8. The Border Patrol does detain apprehended aliens when required by law to do so (e.g., in the case of aliens who are aggravated felons).