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


The Office of the Inspector General Inspections Division conducted a survey of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) Anti-Smuggling Units (ASUs), one component of its anti-smuggling program. Our goal was to provide INS managers with insights on the anti-smuggling program from the ASUs' perspective. To obtain that information, we conducted a survey of ASU supervisors and visited five ASUs. Throughout the process, we focused on program issues, such as the clarity of the mission of ASUs and coordination between ASUs and other INS entities.

We found that the clarity of the mission of ASUs is diminished by the fact that ASUs perceive a lack of direction from INS headquarters regarding the national anti-smuggling strategy, which was issued in 1997. In a survey of ASU supervisors, we found that 46 percent of the respondents felt that the mission of their ASU had not been clearly defined by headquarters.

We also found that 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 because it can lead to needless duplication of effort.

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.

The prevailing sentiment of INS personnel we interviewed, both at headquarters and in the field, is that ASUs do not receive adequate resources to accomplish their mission. ASUs receive a quarterly budget allotment, which, according to some ASU supervisors, barely covers general expenses, such as telephone calls and gas for ASU vehicles. The number of ASU agents is also a concern. In FY 1999, there were approximately 270 ASU agents nationwide, not enough agents, INS officials assert, to offset the steady increase in the smuggling of aliens into the United States.

ASU agents need additional training and equipment, according to ASU personnel we interviewed during our site visits. Training in the use of technical investigation equipment is the area of greatest need. Several agents we interviewed also said that they had received no ASU-specific training when they were assigned to the ASU. Those agents said that the lack of training is problematic because ASU investigations are more complicated than other investigations, such as immigration fraud cases or worksite enforcement. Equipment needs vary widely from one ASU to another. A need commonly mentioned was "undercover" vehicles that agents can use while conducting surveillance. Undercover vehicles generally are obtained through seizures made during law enforcement operations. However, changes in asset forfeiture laws have limited the number of seizures INS makes, thus eliminating a source for undercover vehicles.

The United States General Accounting Office, in its report titled Alien Smuggling: Management and Operational Improvements Needed to Address Growing Problem (May 2000), made recommendations that, when implemented, will significantly improve INS's anti-smuggling program. For example, GAO recommended that INS establish criteria for opening cases, establish a central case management system, establish performance measures for anti-smuggling operations and the intelligence program, and require that intelligence reports be prepared in database format. We endorse those recommendations.

In addition, based on our review, we recommend that INS: (1) determine whether a single chain of command for the anti-smuggling program would be more effective and efficient than the current structure, and (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.