At U.S. international airports, INS inspectors have, on average, less than one minute to decide on whether to admit applicants for admission to the United States. During this brief encounter, INS inspectors must observe the applicants, ask questions, examine all travel documents, and run identification checks against INS computerized databases.
INS inspectors are the domestic line of defense at U.S. international airports against improperly documented passengers entering the country; however, the international airline industry is the first line of defense overseas in preventing improperly documented passengers from traveling to the United States. Airline industry personnel screen passengers and their documents at foreign airports prior to passengers boarding aircraft bound for the United States. Those passengers that present blatantly fraudulent documents or do not possess complete and proper documents are not allowed to board aircraft bound for the United States. The checks of INS inspectors and airline personnel are critical to preventing illegal entry and protecting the national security interests of the United States.
As we reported in a March 1999 OIG report, The Potential for Fraud and INS's Efforts to Reduce the Risk of the Visa Waiver Pilot Program (VWPP), I-99-10, applicants presenting themselves for entry under the VWPP are not required to have a visa, meaning that they are not required to submit a written visa application or undergo interviews or background checks by U.S. State Department personnel. Despite controls in place to screen VWPP passengers, we found that the VWPP facilitates illegal entry into the United States, and that terrorists and criminals are using the VWPP in their attempts to enter this country.
These findings highlight the importance of INS having a cooperative relationship with the airline industry. Whether individuals are traveling under the VWPP or are presenting other travel documents to request entry into the United States, airlines can play a vital role in ensuring that these individuals have complete and proper documents. The burden on INS to identify and deny entry to individuals attempting to enter the United States illegally is greatly reduced if airlines are properly trained and have sufficient tactical information to prevent such individuals from boarding the aircraft at foreign points of embarkation. INS resources not spent inspecting and processing these individuals could then be used to speed the inspection of legitimate applicants for entry. Airlines that successfully screen passengers at points of embarkation also benefit by avoiding fines and the cost of transporting these individuals back to their points of embarkation.
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