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Inspection of the Secure Electronic Network
for Travelers' Rapid Inspection

Report Number I-2000-019
June 2000


Overall, our findings demonstrate that SENTRI has met its mission of reducing commuter wait times for those using the SENTRI lane without compromising border integrity. At both Otay Mesa and the Peace Bridge, commuter wait times for those enrolled in the program have been reduced. In addition, no major border violations have been reported in any of the SENTRI lanes. Those involved in SENTRI's development and implementation, including INS, Customs and JPR, deserve credit for SENTRI's innovative approach to the land border inspection process and for SENTRI's cross-agency involvement.

Funding shortfalls and limited resources, however, have often interfered with SENTRI's ability to carry out its mission at sites along both the Southwest and Northern borders. Long-range plans regarding SENTRI's future have not been developed for any of SENTRI's sites, leaving many critical issues still unresolved, including whether SENTRI's sites along the Southwest and Northern borders will be integrated and whether SENTRI will be established by INS and Customs as a permanent program. In addition, SENTRI's overall operations have not been fully evaluated to determine SENTRI's effectiveness at any of SENTRI's sites, despite requirements and performance goals for doing so. A more comprehensive framework for evaluating proposed SENTRI sites is also needed to provide a stronger and more objective basis for site selection decisions made by INS and Customs. Related, current methods for projecting enrollment levels have consistently failed in yielding accurate projections needed to assess the suitability of proposed SENTRI sites.

For SENTRI's two sites along the Northern border, there are indications that SENTRI's impact at these sites is much more limited compared with sites along the Southwest border, raising questions about the need for SENTRI along the Northern border. In addition, the failure by inspectors at the Peace Bridge to consistently perform SENTRI's required administrative procedures may undermine SENTRI's ability to maintain border integrity. Finally, current commuter resistance along the Northern border to SENTRI's planned user fee remains strong and, as INS has acknowledged, is likely to undercut future efforts to operate SENTRI along the Northern border.

Therefore, based on our findings, improvements are needed in several important areas to ensure SENTRI's continued ability to carry out its mission at existing sites along both the Southwest and Northern borders. In addition, these improvements are necessary for ensuring SENTRI's success at future sites and should therefore be made before SENTRI is expanded to additional sites beyond San Ysidro.

The Inspections Division recommends that the Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service:

  1. Work with Customs and JPR to develop and implement long-range plans regarding SENTRI's status beyond its scheduled term as a reinvention laboratory. These plans should include developing a management structure for SENTRI as a permanent program; recovering SENTRI's full operating costs at all sites, as required by Office of Management and Budget Circular A-25; and devising a strategy for the future of the Northern border SENTRI sites.

  2. Develop and implement a funding plan for SENTRI that will cover the operation of SENTRI at all sites and address current funding shortfalls.

  3. Require that inspectors consistently follow existing audit procedures for maintaining and validating SENTRI's enrollment data at sites along the Southwest border; develop and implement similar audit procedures for sites along the Northern border.

  4. Require that SENTRI's administrative procedures be consistently performed by inspectors at each site, including that inspectors conduct annual renewals of SENTRI's enrollees and run daily IBIS-queries.

  5. Perform semiannual evaluations of SENTRI's full operations at each site, as agreed to under the 1994 Memorandum of Understanding with Customs regarding the implementation of dedicated commuter lanes. These evaluations should be used by INS in identifying and resolving problems at existing sites as well as in reassessing the continued viability of these sites.

  6. Reassess the appropriateness of existing performance goals, benchmarks, and measures developed for Southwest border sites and develop performance goals, benchmarks and measures for Northern border sites.

  7. Strengthen current methods for projecting enrollment levels at proposed sites.

  8. Revise the current framework used for evaluating and selecting proposed sites to include at a minimum a quantitative analysis of: commuter wait times, traffic volume, incidences of border violations, and potential enrollment levels.