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Survey of INS's Anti-Smuggling Units
Report Number I-2001-003
March 2001


INS's anti-smuggling program operates in a manner that limits its effectiveness. We found that ASUs, an integral component of that program, perceive a lack of direction from INS headquarters regarding their mission. Because it has no direct supervisory authority over the ASUs, the SCO Branch of Investigations, which oversees the anti-smuggling program, cannot ensure that the agents assigned to the program are actually working anti-smuggling cases. In fact, a number of these agents have been assigned to other duties by district supervisors. This reduces the already insufficient number of agents-less than 300 nationwide-tasked with implementing INS's national anti-smuggling strategy.

The anti-smuggling program does not have a separate budget; its funding comes out of the Investigations budget. The regional offices allocate monies to the districts and sectors, and in turn, each ASU receives an allotment for general expenses. The allotment covers routine expenses but often little else. For example, ASU personnel we interviewed said that ASUs do not have sufficient funds to provide needed training to their agents. For priority investigations, ASUs must submit, through the regional offices to headquarters, requests for additional funding.

The structure of the anti-smuggling program is not efficient. Because ASUs are located in both INS district offices and Border Patrol sectors, they report to headquarters through two separate chains of command, a situation widely recognized as problematic by INS officials.

One level in the chain of command-the regional offices-decreases the efficiency of the anti-smuggling program, according to many ASU personnel we interviewed. ASU supervisors maintain that having to route proposals for undercover operations and requests for funding through the regional offices, and having to wait for approvals and funding from headquarters to return by the same route, delays their investigations.

Veterans of the anti-smuggling program feel that the program has lost the stature it formerly had when it was a separate program rather than part of Investigations. INS's Draft Restructuring Proposal (July 1999), which outlines a separate anti-smuggling program, indicates that INS headquarters is considering returning to an earlier structure for the anti-smuggling program.

Alien smuggling is a serious problem that continues to escalate. Combating the problem necessitates that INS have an effective anti-smuggling program. In its May 2000 report, GAO made recommendations that, when implemented, will significantly improve INS's anti-smuggling program. We endorse those recommendations. In addition, we recommend that INS:

  1. Determine whether a single chain of command for the anti-smuggling program would be more effective than the current structure. In doing so, consider whether to: (a) end collocation of ASUs in the same city; and (b) dedicate ASU agents in district offices full time to anti-smuggling operations.

  2. Reevaluate the practice of routing time-sensitive communications from ASUs through the regional offices and, if feasible, eliminate the routing through regional offices altogether.