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Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration
Report No. I-2002-003
December 7, 2001


This Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report describes the progress made to integrate the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) automated biometric fingerprint identification system (IDENT) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) integrated automated fingerprint identification system (IAFIS). The report provides a brief history of the efforts by the INS and the FBI to integrate their automated fingerprint identification systems, then summarizes what has been done since the Department of Justice (DOJ) issued an implementation plan in March 2000 to integrate the systems. The report also describes significant changes in the integration plan since August 2001 and details the current status of the integration project. Finally, the report provides our recommendation that the INS continue to use and deploy IDENT while proceeding to integrate IDENT and IAFIS.

The INS's Automated Biometric Fingerprint Identification System (IDENT)

In 1989, Congress provided the initial funding for the INS to develop an automated fingerprint identification system. One of the main purposes of the system was to identify and track aliens who were repeatedly apprehended trying to enter the United States illegally. The system was also intended to identify apprehended aliens who were suspected of criminal activity, had outstanding arrest warrants, or who had been previously deported. According to the 1989 conference report describing Congress's rationale for funding the project:

The conferees are concerned over the so-called "revolving door" phenomenon of illegal entry by aliens. This phenomenon involves repeated attempts by aliens to cross U.S. borders, requiring continual apprehension, removal and repeat apprehension of the same individual by INS officials. Illegal immigration continues at alarming rates, and criminal alien statistics provided by the INS indicate a growing proportion of aliens are drug smugglers, known criminals and suspected terrorists. Emerging technology in the area of automated fingerprint identification systems has the potential for providing empirical data to clearly define the problem of recidivism as well as immediately identify those criminal aliens who should remain in the custody of INS.

Between 1991 and 1994, the INS conducted several studies of automated fingerprint systems, primarily in the San Diego, California, Border Patrol Sector. These studies demonstrated to the INS the feasibility of using a biometric fingerprint identification system to identify apprehended aliens on a large scale. In September 1994, Congress provided almost $30 million for the INS to deploy its fingerprint identification system. In October 1994, the INS began using the system, called IDENT, first in the San Diego Border Patrol Sector and then throughout the rest of the Southwest Border.

In the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Section 326, Criminal Alien Identification System, Congress specifically directed the INS to expand the use of IDENT "to apply to illegal or criminal aliens apprehended Nationwide." This Act also directed the INS to:

operate a criminal alien identification system . . . to assist Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in identifying and locating aliens who may be subject to removal by reason of their conviction of aggravated felonies, subject to prosecution . . .[because they were] not lawfully present in the United States, or otherwise removable. Such system shall include providing for recording of fingerprint records of aliens who have been previously arrested and removed into appropriate automated fingerprint identification systems.

The INS responded by specifying IDENT as the system serving this purpose. IDENT was also designed to be the biometrics component of the INS's Enforcement Case Tracking System (ENFORCE). ENFORCE is an electronic application that standardizes the collection and reporting of enforcement data across the INS. ENFORCE/IDENT workstations allow INS agents to enter data associated with apprehensions electronically and also to capture the biometric data at the same terminal. Integrated ENFORCE/IDENT workstations are currently in use in all but 2 of 21 Border Patrol Sectors. IDENT is being used in some District offices and ports of entry. 1

The INS's goal is to enroll virtually all apprehended aliens in IDENT. To enroll an alien in IDENT, an INS officer places the alien's right and then left index fingers on the IDENT fingerprint scanner, takes flat press fingerprints, takes the alien's photograph with the IDENT camera, and enters certain biographical information into the computer. IDENT then electronically compares the alien's fingerprints to fingerprints in three of its databases: (1) a lookout database that contains fingerprints and photographs of approximately 240,000 aliens who have been convicted of aggravated felonies; suspected of being controlled substance traffickers; convicted for a crime involving moral turpitude or multiple criminal convictions; or aliens inadmissible on national security related grounds; (2) an apprehension (recidivist) with alert database that contains fingerprints and photographs of almost 300,000 aliens who have an administrative final order of removal or aliens who do not meet the criteria for a lookout record but for whom there is an officer safety concern; and (3) an apprehension database that contains fingerprints and photographs of over 4 million illegal aliens who have been apprehended by the INS, enrolled in IDENT and then permitted to voluntarily depart the United States or withdraw their applications for admission at ports of entry. 2 The fingerprint query of the three databases normally takes two minutes.

IDENT was built to handle a high volume of fingerprint checks of aliens in custody against a large database. The INS believes it must receive a response time of no more than a few minutes so that INS officers can quickly decide what to do with an apprehended alien.

The FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS)

Since the 1920s, the FBI's Identification Division has maintained a central repository of ten-fingerprint cards of criminal offenders. In 1967, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) was created to provide a national name-based database of information on wanted individuals and stolen articles, vehicles, guns, and license plates submitted by participating federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The Interstate Identification Index, which contains information on arrests and dispositions, was added to NCIC in 1983.

An Advisory Policy Board (APB) composed of approximately 30 representatives from the federal, state, and local criminal justice community was organized in 1967 to establish policy and procedures for the management and use of the NCIC system and make recommendations to the FBI Director. In June 1989, the FBI Director asked the APB to expand its role and provide advice and guidance on fingerprint identification issues. In February 1990, the APB recommended that the FBI overhaul its paper-based fingerprint identification system and create a new system, IAFIS, that would allow electronic searches for fingerprint matches.

The INS and the FBI periodically discussed integrating their automated fingerprint identification systems since both agencies began developing them around 1990. However, the INS had differing needs for its system and developed it faster than the FBI developed its own system. As a result, the INS deployed IDENT in 1994, well before the FBI's fingerprint scanning systems - IAFIS or the fingerprint biometric element of NCIC 2000 - were deployed in July 1999.

IAFIS is an automated ten-fingerprint matching system that relies on rolled fingerprints rather than flat pressed prints. IAFIS contains more than 40 million ten-print fingerprint records in its criminal master file and is connected electronically with all 50 states and some federal agencies. The IAFIS response time for criminal fingerprints submitted electronically is two hours and the response time for civil fingerprints and latent searches is 24 hours. The response time to fingerprint submissions in paper-card format is three days from time of receipt to mailing back a response.

NCIC 2000 allows law enforcement agents across the United States to quickly search 22 NCIC databases containing approximately 60 million records when investigating crimes or questioning suspects. The databases include wanted persons, stolen vehicles, deported felons, gang and terrorist members, and missing persons. In addition, NCIC 2000 allows agents in the field in a properly equipped police vehicle to transmit a single pressed fingerprint that is searched in minutes against a subset of the NCIC databases (wanted, missing, and unidentified person files). NCIC 2000 also lets officers view photographs to help confirm a suspect's identity.

IAFIS was built to handle a large volume of fingerprint checks against a large database of fingerprints. But to support searches for latent fingerprints found at crime scenes, IAFIS requires ten-rolled fingerprints, rather than IDENT's two pressed prints. Rolled fingerprints obtain more points of comparison for each finger. NCIC 2000 was built to handle a much more limited volume of fingerprint checks against a much smaller database of fingerprints for individuals who have wants and warrants outstanding. 3 Only one flat pressed fingerprint is taken and a rapid response time is required since these checks normally involve individuals who state or local police have stopped or have in custody.


  1. The Houlton, Maine, Border Patrol Sector and Swanton, Vermont, Border Patrol Sector do not have the integrated ENFORCE/IDENT, but do have stand-alone IDENT workstations. Ports of entry also do not use the integrated ENFORCE/IDENT workstation, but have a special data entry screen for IDENT.

  2. IDENT also contains a database of applicants for asylum and a database of applicants for the new Border Crossing cards.

  3. The wants and warrants databases in NCIC contains data on persons who are wanted by a criminal justice organization and should be detained if apprehended.