CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The Border Patrol mission includes, "detecting, interdicting, and apprehending undocumented entrants, smugglers, contraband and violators of other laws." However, the Border Patrol and INS lack official standardized policies and procedures governing their involvement in the counter drug mission and drug interdiction activities. The lack of policies affects the security, accountability, and chain of custody of drugs and drug evidence in Border Patrol custody when a drug seizure is made. Further, it affects INS' ability to enforce immigration laws regarding aliens involved in drug seizure cases. There are no general policies guiding Border Patrol agents' actions in a pursuit situation when the fleeing suspect or suspects drop drugs. INS and the Border Patrol have no official guidelines specifying that illegal aliens apprehended in drug seizure cases should not be voluntarily returned to Mexico. The Border Patrol is failing to consistently file detainers on the aliens turned over to other agencies for prosecution on drug offenses. Because these aliens will be prosecuted for the drug charges prior to immigration violations being addressed, if the Border Patrol does not do the initial immigration processing at the time of apprehension, some of the aliens will ultimately slip through the cracks of the immigration system. Finally, the Border Patrol does not question or fingerprint most of these aliens, and therefore loses the opportunity to gather valuable intelligence for use in developing databases and identifying trends, or conducting analysis to target interdiction routes and smugglers.
The Border Patrol and INS need to develop policies and procedures to enhance their
ability to achieve successful detection, interdiction, and apprehension of drug smugglers
and contraband, as well as to ensure comprehensive intelligence collection. While field
enforcement officers need the latitude and discretionary authority to handle diverse and
complex situations, some additional guidelines are clearly necessary. These guidelines
should also address Border Patrol's cooperative efforts with other agencies involved in
the counter drug mission, to clarify and define working relationships. Policies should be
flexible enough to meet the needs of the various Border Patrol stations and sectors on the
The Inspections Division recommends that the Commissioner, Immigration and Naturalization Service:
1. Develop and implement written policies regarding proper drug storage procedures.
2. Examine drug storage facilities at Border Patrol stations on the Southwest border and improve the security of these facilities where they are deficient.
3. Establish procedures for implementing a drug seizure logbook, independent of the I-44 form, to maintain accountability of seized drugs at all Border Patrol stations.
4. Designate evidence custodians at all Border Patrol sectors and stations to oversee drug evidence handling, storage, and transfer procedures, and to ensure the use of evidence custody logs for chain of custody of drug evidence.
5. Issue a memorandum to agents in the field and reemphasize training at the academies to stress the importance of making an arrest in drug seizure cases, because without apprehension of a suspect, prosecution and investigation is unlikely.
6. Develop and implement policies and guidelines governing the processing of aliens involved in drug seizure cases to ensure immigration violations are addressed following criminal prosecution, or immediately in cases that will not be prosecuted.
7. Implement guidelines to ensure that detainers are issued on all aliens apprehended in drug seizure cases who are turned over for prosecution. Immediately issue detainers on the remainder of the 18 deportable aliens identified in our case sample who are still in custody without INS detainers, and any other deportable aliens apprehended in drug seizure cases who are still in custody.
8. Issue policy clarifying that voluntary returns and voluntary departures should not be granted where there is reason to believe that the illegal aliens are engaged in drug trafficking.
9. Implement policy regarding intelligence collection that requires agents to fingerprint all aliens apprehended in drug seizure cases.
10. Ensure the Border Patrol recognizes the importance of the interdiction intelligence available from drug smuggling suspects and coordinates with DEA so that each agency has ample opportunity to obtain information from suspects during questioning.
Methodology and Analysis of Case Sample
There are nine Border Patrol sectors on the Southwest border, each with five to thirteen stations under its jurisdiction. For FY 1996, these stations made a total of 5,885 drug seizures ranging from 242 at Yuma, Arizona, up to a high of 1,469 at McAllen, Texas.28 These seizures included a total of 666,647 pounds of marijuana and 18,224 pounds of cocaine. Yuma had the lowest amount of marijuana seized, 11,106 pounds, and McAllen had the highest amount, 167,914 pounds. San Diego, California, seized 347 pounds of cocaine, the least amount, and Tucson, Arizona, seized 5,026 pounds, the largest amount.
The inspections team visited four Border Patrol Sectors: El Paso, El Centro, San Diego, and Tucson. Within those four sectors we visited fifteen stations: El Paso, Fabens, Fort Hancock, Santa Teresa, Alamogordo, and Las Cruces in the El Paso Sector; El Centro and Calexico stations in the El Centro Sector; Temecula, Boulevard, and San Clemente in the San Diego Sector; and Tucson, Nogales, Douglas, and Naco in the Tucson Sector. In addition, we interviewed representatives from the Campo Station in San Diego and the Ysleta Station in El Paso. We conducted follow-up telephonic interviews with representatives from these sectors and stations as well as others along the Southwest border.
The inspections team took a sample of cases from FY 1996 because that was the latest year for which complete records were available. Additionally there would have been sufficient time for resolution of a majority of the criminal and immigration cases in the sample. We selected a random sample of at least 100 Border Patrol drug seizure cases from FY 1996 for each of the four Border Patrol sectors visited. In the first three sectors, the sample was chosen from a database that was maintained by the Intelligence Section at each Sector Headquarters of all FY 1996 drug seizure cases. In Tucson, which did not have a database, the sample was randomly selected from the I-44s maintained by each station. Our case sample includes 426 cases, or 17 percent, of a universe of 2,462 cases from which we had to select. The 426 cases consist of 367 Border Patrol initiated cases, and 59 cases in which the Border Patrol assisted another agency with its drug seizure case. When the Border Patrol assisted another agency, that agency maintained authority in the case and all suspects, drugs, or other evidence were in the custody of and the responsibility of that agency. Because the Border Patrol was not in charge of these assist cases, they are not reflected in the statistics and charts except with regard to the outcomes of the aliens apprehended in those cases.
The paperwork maintained by the Border Patrol in a drug seizure case consists solely of the Form I-44. We obtained copies of these I-44s for every case in our case sample from the Border Patrol sectors. We used these forms to analyze and compile statistics. The I-44 forms contain basic information including names, places and dates of birth, and addresses for any suspects apprehended; time and place of apprehension or seizure; description, weight, and estimated value of any drugs or other evidence seized; any vehicles seized; agencies assisted if any; signature, title, office and agency, and date blocks for the representative of another agency taking custody of the case, suspects, and evidence; and a narrative explaining the particulars of the case. When pertinent information was missing on these forms, we contacted the Border Patrol sectors or stations as well as the receiving agencies for clarification. Receiving agencies are those federal, state, and local agencies that take over cases for prosecution by assuming custody of the suspects, drugs, and other evidence, or that assume custody of abandoned drugs for destruction.
We divided the 219 cases with suspect apprehensions into those that took place at a Border Patrol checkpoint and those that were border operations between the POEs. We further broke down these categories into cases involving only U.S. citizen suspects versus cases involving alien suspects. The individuals apprehended at the checkpoints were more likely to be remanded for prosecution, less likely to be voluntarily returned, and almost never absconded. Additionally, we discovered that a majority of the U.S. citizens apprehended by the Border Patrol in drug seizure cases were caught at the checkpoints rather than along the border.
Of the total Border Patrol initiated, or non-assist cases, 148, or 40 percent, had no suspects apprehended. We divided cases with no suspect apprehension into two subcategories, Abandoned Drugs and Unsuccessful or Unattempted Pursuit. The majority of the cases without suspect apprehension fell into the abandoned drug category. In these cases, Border Patrol agents found drugs with no suspects or evidence of suspects to pursue. Examples include drugs discovered in a suitcase on a bus travelling through a checkpoint that no passengers claimed, or drugs discovered in the desert or near the border with no obvious footprints or car tracks in the area that could be followed. Also included in the abandoned drug subcategory are cases in which evidence of a suspect was found: fresh footprints near the drugs but no visible suspects, a sensor hit recorded but only drugs found, or drugs thrown across the international border by a suspect in Mexico who could not be pursued.29
Cases in which there was unsuccessful or unattempted pursuit include those whose case narratives state that there was a suspect to pursue, but pursuit was not initiated or began but was unsuccessful. In cases involving unsuccessful pursuits, it is sometimes evident in the narrative why it was unsuccessful -- for example, the suspect was chased until he escaped and simply could not be found. In cases involving unattempted pursuits, the most common scenario was that a potentially successful pursuit was interrupted when the suspect dropped the drugs and Border Patrol agents then concentrated only on securing the drugs while the suspect fled. Sometimes agents later made attempts to track the suspect who had long since escaped.
Breakdown of Cases in Sample
|Drug seizure cases with alien suspect apprehension at Checkpoint||74|
|Drug seizure cases with only US suspect apprehension at Checkpoint||45|
|Total Checkpoint Apprehension Cases||119|
|Drug seizure cases with alien suspect apprehension in Border Ops||81|
|Drug seizure cases with only US suspect apprehension in Border Ops||19|
|Total Border Ops Apprehension Cases||100|
|Total drug seizure cases with apprehensions at Checkpoints||119|
|Total drug seizure cases with apprehensions in Border Operations||100|
|Total drug seizure cases with apprehensions||219|
|Abandoned drug cases||91|
|Unsuccessful or Unattempted pursuit cases||57|
|Total drug seizure cases with no apprehensions||148|
|Total drug seizure cases with apprehensions||219|
|Total drug seizure cases with no apprehensions||148|
|Total Border Patrol initiated cases||367|
|Total cases in sample||426|
28 Numbers are for U.S. Border Patrol Drug Seizures for FY 1996 provided by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
29 The Border Patrol has numerous electronic sensor devices implanted along the border. These sensors are designed to transmit a signal that is monitored at the stations when an individual or vehicle moves over the sensor. Once alerted by the sensor, a Border Patrol agent determines whether the sensor was triggered by an illegal alien or aliens crossing the border.