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:


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:

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.


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.


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.

Drug smuggling


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:


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:

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:

Other factors affect the Border Patrol's enforcement capability


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).