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Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration
Report No. I-2003-005
June 2003


The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) conducted this review to examine the Department of Justice's (Department) progress at integrating the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS).5

Since 1998, the OIG has conducted four reviews (including the current review) and testified three times before Congress regarding IDENT and the efforts to integrate IDENT and IAFIS. Our first report, Review of the [INS's] Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) (March 1998), examined the status of the INS's implementation of IDENT. Subsequent OIG reviews and testimonies, which reported on the status of efforts to integrate IDENT and IAFIS, include The Rafael Resendez-Ramirez Case: A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of Its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System (March 20, 2000); Status of IDENT/IAFIS Integration (December 7, 2001); Statement of Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General, before the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims (October 11, 2001); Statement of Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General, before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information (October 12, 2001); and Statement of Glenn A. Fine, Inspector General, before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (April 1, 2003).

This Background Section describes the development of the IDENT and the IAFIS automated fingerprint identification systems, and provides a brief history of the efforts by the INS and the FBI to integrate the systems. The next section, Results of the Review, describes our findings regarding the progress since December 7, 2001, by the Justice Management Division (JMD), the INS, and the FBI to integrate IDENT and IAFIS. In the final section, we provide four recommendations for improving the management of the IDENT/IAFIS project.

I. A Brief History of IDENT and IAFIS

The INS's IDENT. In 1989, Congress provided the initial funding for the INS to develop an automated fingerprint identification system. The purpose of the system was to identify and track aliens who were apprehended repeatedly trying to enter the United States illegally.6 The system also was intended to identify apprehended aliens suspected of criminal activity such as alien smuggling, aliens subject to removal for conviction of aggravated felonies, and aliens who had been previously deported.

The INS and the FBI discussed developing a joint fingerprint system as early as 1990. However, the concept of integration did not progress beyond the discussion stage because the INS and the FBI had significantly different operational requirements for their fingerprint systems. The primary difference was the issue of using two fingerprints versus ten fingerprints. Because the Border Patrol frequently apprehended large groups of illegal aliens, the INS required that an automated fingerprint system provide a response within two minutes. To meet that requirement, the INS decided that it would implement an automated fingerprint system using two fingerprints and a photograph. In contrast, the FBI, following standard law enforcement protocols, planned on a system using ten fingerprints and requiring an optimum response time of two hours. Consequently, in the 1990s, the two agencies developed independent and incompatible systems, IDENT and IAFIS, to meet their own fingerprint needs.

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 an automated fingerprint system to identify a large number of apprehended aliens at a time. In September 1994, Congress provided $27 million for the INS to deploy IDENT. In October 1994, the INS began using the system, first in the San Diego Border Patrol Sector and then in other Border Patrol sectors along 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 [a] 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 identified IDENT as the system that it would use to meet this congressional directive.

To enroll an alien in IDENT, an INS officer scans the alien's index fingers with the IDENT fingerprint scanner, takes the alien's photograph with the IDENT camera, and enters certain biographical information into the system. The aliens who are fingerprinted and enrolled into IDENT include aliens arrested by the Border Patrol attempting illegal entry into the United States, certain aliens inspected at ports of entry, and aliens encountered in the course of law enforcement actions. Within minutes, IDENT electronically compares the alien's two fingerprints to:

In the OIG's March 1998 report, we evaluated the INS's use of IDENT and found that the INS enrolled into IDENT less than two-thirds of the aliens apprehended along the southwest border. In addition, the INS enrolled only 41 percent of the aliens removed or excluded in FY 1996, and only 24 percent of the IDENT fingerprint records had accompanying photographs, even though the INS relied on photographs to confirm identification. We found virtually no controls in place that ensured the quality of data entered into IDENT. As a result, we found duplicate records and invalid data. We also stated our concern that the INS had not provided sufficient training to field staff on the use of IDENT. We concluded that these failures hampered the INS's ability to make consistent and effective use of IDENT.

The FBI's IAFIS. Since the 1920s, the FBI's Identification Division has maintained a central repository of ten-print fingerprint cards of criminal offenders. In 1989, the FBI Director asked the Advisory Policy Board (APB), composed of approximately 30 representatives from the federal, state, and local criminal justice community, to provide advice and guidance on fingerprint identification issues. In February 1990, the APB recommended that the FBI overhaul its paper-based identification system and create a new system, IAFIS, that would allow electronic searches for fingerprint matches.

In contrast to the INS, the FBI uses its fingerprint system not only to positively identify an individual in custody, but also to meet other standard law enforcement needs, such as identifying fingerprints found at crime scenes. Because fingerprints at crime scenes may be from any finger, the long-established law enforcement standard requires that officers take prints from all ten fingers. Further, unlike the Border Patrol, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies do not routinely apprehend large groups of suspects, and, accordingly, do not face the processing time constraints that the INS faced.

To meet its needs, the FBI decided that its fingerprint system, IAFIS, would contain all ten fingerprints and provide a response in as little as two hours for high priority electronic requests (for lower priority and non-electronic requests, a longer response time would be allowed). A fingerprint examiner also analyzes and confirms the match made by IAFIS. IAFIS became operational in July 1999. It contains more than 40 million 10-print fingerprint records in its Criminal Master File and is connected electronically with all 50 states and some federal agencies.7

II. A Brief History of the Integration Project

JMD Assigned to Review IDENT and IAFIS. In 1998, in response to congressional questions about duplication between the INS and FBI systems, the Department assigned JMD to report on the feasibility of converting IDENT to a ten-fingerprint system. On May 28, 1998, JMD proposed that the long-term goal of the Department should be to adopt ten-fingerprint enrollment as the standard while retaining IDENT to meet the INS's specific requirements. JMD concluded that this concept was:

the unanimous choice of those who have been involved in the IDENT-IAFIS fingerprint issue, i.e., JMD, the FBI, the Border Patrol, and the INS. Properly funded, the option will permit the Border Patrol to maintain its current processing times while providing other law enforcement agencies with a voluminous fingerprint database that can be searched to solve crimes committed in the communities. At the same time, by retaining IDENT, the Border Patrol is able to capitalize on the benefits that system has to provide as an intelligence-gathering and investigative tool. Moreover, the rest of the INS will be able to continue its plans to integrate IDENT with other internal functions unique to the Service.

The Rafael Resendez-Ramirez Case. In 1999, the shortcomings in the Department's ability to identify apprehended aliens were vividly and tragically brought to public attention in the case of Rafael Resendez-Ramirez (Resendez), known as the "railway killer." Resendez, a Mexican citizen with an extensive criminal record, was sought in 1999 for several brutal murders in the United States. Although the INS was notified that other law enforcement agencies had issued warrants for Resendez, the INS agents who received the notification of the outstanding warrants did not enter his fingerprint records into the IDENT lookout database because they were unfamiliar with IDENT or thought it was the job of others to enter the information.

On June 1, 1999, Border Patrol agents detained Resendez after he illegally crossed the southwest border into the United States. The IDENT system identified him as a recidivist; but, because he was not included in the lookout database, nothing in IDENT alerted the Border Patrol that Resendez was wanted by the FBI and local law enforcement authorities for murder. Therefore, the Border Patrol did not detain Resendez, but followed its standard policy and voluntarily returned him to Mexico. Within days, Resendez illegally returned to the United States and committed four more murders before surrendering to law enforcement authorities on July 13, 1999.

In July 1999, a House Committee on Appropriations' report, with the Resendez incident clearly in mind, stated, " . . . [T]he Committee repeatedly raised concerns that IDENT was not integrated with FBI's IAFIS database." The House report also demanded that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies should have access to INS fingerprint information, and that the INS needed full access to the FBI criminal history records.

On March 20, 2000, the OIG issued its report, The Rafael Resendez-Ramirez Case: A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of Its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System. We found that the INS was unable to identify whether apprehended aliens were wanted felons because IDENT could not access the FBI's newly automated criminal fingerprint database (IAFIS) to check for outstanding warrants on the aliens. The OIG recommended that technology be used to effectively provide what the IDENT lookout database did not - a check of all apprehended aliens to determine if they have serious criminal records, prior orders of deportation, or any outstanding arrest warrants. The report concluded that the Department and its components should aggressively and expeditiously link the FBI and INS automated fingerprint systems.

Fingerprint Summit and Integration Project Studies. In the Department's FY 2000 appropriation, Congress directed that the Department conduct three studies to examine the feasibility of IDENT/IAFIS integration. In response to the congressional directive, the Department assigned JMD to coordinate its efforts to develop an integration plan. JMD convened a "Fingerprint Summit" meeting on August 12, 1999, attended by representatives from the FBI and the INS to discuss a plan for integrating IDENT and IAFIS. At the meeting, the participants created a conceptual model for integrating IDENT and IAFIS. Key elements of the model required that federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies be able to access the INS's fingerprint records through IAFIS, and that the INS be able to check fingerprints of apprehended aliens against all fingerprint records in IAFIS.

To support the integration project, in FY 2000 and FY 2001, the Department conducted the studies:

JMD questioned the conclusions of the Criminality Study because its scope was limited, and decided not to use the results for future development and deployment decisions. In particular, JMD was concerned that the resource cost estimates only measured Border Patrol activity along the southwest border, that much of the data was up to three years old, and that the cost projections did not account for USAO prosecution criteria, which varied across the country.

In August 2001, JMD planned a Metric Study that would evaluate seasonal immigration fluctuations and more accurately project the potential operational impact and downstream operational costs of implementing an integrated fingerprint system.9 In February 2003, Congress directed the Department to submit a Cost and Operational Effectiveness Assessment on the estimated operational costs of the integration project by June 2003.10 JMD intended to use the Metric Study for this purpose.

Previous Deployment Plans. According to the January 12, 2001, JMD FY 2002 budget request, IDENT/IAFIS would be developed and deployed in four major versions, culminating in the full integration of IDENT and IAFIS in FY 2007 (see Table 1). Each major version can have incremental versions. According to the initial implementation plan, the FBI would maintain the integrated system. The entire project was budgeted at $571 million, which included $125 million for maintenance of IDENT, but included nothing for the downstream operational costs to the INS or other components. The initial stage of IDENT/IAFIS, Version 1, would be deployed in FY 2001.

Table 1
January 2001
Version Development Date Deployment Date Capabilities
1 FY 2001 FY 2001 Ten-fingerprint workstation capable of querying IDENT using index fingers and IAFIS using ten fingers. Displays IDENT and IAFIS responses. Archives the ten-fingerprints for use by future versions. IAFIS electronically transmits criminal history records for matches. (Version 1 has several increments referred to as Version 1.1, Version 1.1.1, Version 1.1+, and Version 1.2.)
2 FY 2002 FY 2003 Transfers archived ten-fingerprints into searchable files (Apprehension File).
3 FY 2003 to
FY 2004
FY 2004 Federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies able to search the Apprehension File through IAFIS.
4 FY 2004 to
FY 2007
FY 2006 to
FY 2007
Full search capabilities of the Apprehension File that have yet to be determined.
Source: INS Project Documents

In August 2001, however, JMD revised its integration plan and slowed down the project. Based on the mandated studies, JMD concluded that the greatest obstacles facing the integration project were not system development or technical issues, but operational issues related to the Department's ability to handle the additional workload and costs projected by the Criminality Study. Because it questioned the accuracy of those projections, JMD decided to slow the pace of the project to study the additional workload and costs. JMD also wanted to monitor developing biometric technologies to ensure that the Department did not commit large sums of money to an integration plan that would not take advantage of technological advances.

As a result of this decision to slow the project's pace, JMD also reduced its original FY 2002 budget request for the project from $38 million to $9 million. The $9 million would fund, among other things, studies of data collected by deploying Version 1.1 to eight sites by February 2002 and an additional ten field sites by July 2002. JMD projected that Version 1.2 would be deployed by the end of December 2002.

Taken together, those decisions meant that the time frame for completing the first integrated version of IDENT and IAFIS would be set back one year. Budgeting for completion of the full integration plan was still projected to be FY 2007, but would be re?evaluated as the results of the pilot tests and field site deployments were analyzed over the following two years.

The USA PATRIOT Act. On October 26, 2001, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the President signed the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, Public Law 107-56 (Patriot Act). The Patriot Act directs the expedited implementation of an integrated entry and exit data system, including the use of biometric technology, so that federal law enforcement organizations can better identify and detain individuals who pose a threat to national security. The Patriot Act requires that the FBI share wanted persons information in IAFIS with the INS to determine whether an applicant for admission at a port of entry has a criminal record, and that the Attorney General report to Congress on enhancing IAFIS and other identification systems to better identify aliens who may be wanted before their entry or exit from the United States. Subsequent Departmental responses to Congress regarding pertinent provisions of the Patriot Act indicated that an integrated IDENT/IAFIS is an integral tool to identify terrorist or criminal aliens attempting to enter the United States.

OIG December 2001 Report on the Integration of IDENT and IAFIS. In December 2001, we conducted a follow-up review to determine the status of efforts to integrate IDENT and IAFIS. The primary finding of our follow-up review, similar to the conclusions in our March 2000 report, was that the Department had moved slowly toward integrating the two fingerprint systems. We recommended that the Department continue expeditiously to seek linkage of the FBI and INS automated fingerprint systems, and continue to use IDENT while the integration was proceeding. Based on a recommendation in the OIG March 2000 Resendez report, we also supported the INS and FBI interim measure of immediately adding IAFIS fingerprint records for aliens with outstanding wants and warrants to the IDENT lookout database. We also recommended in the December 2001 report that the fingerprint records of known or suspected terrorists be added to the IDENT lookout database.

III. Scope and Methodology

During this review begun in November 2002, we interviewed 26 individuals, including officials from the Office of the Attorney General, JMD, the INS, the FBI, and government contractors. In addition, we reviewed over 200 documents including deployment plans, risk analysis studies, status reports, test and evaluation plans, progress assessments, meeting minutes, and technical manuals. We also observed a demonstration of the IDENT/IAFIS training module at INS headquarters. In addition, we visited the INS port of entry at Dulles International Airport to observe IDENT/IAFIS operations and interview INS staff.


  1. Biometrics are biological measurements unique to each person, such as fingerprints, hand geometry, facial patterns, retinal patterns, or other characteristics that are used to identify individuals. Fingerprints are the most common biometric used by law enforcement agencies. IDENT was developed as a biometric component of the INS's Enforcement Case Tracking System (ENFORCE), a case management system that documents and tracks the investigation, identification, apprehension, detention, and removal of immigration law violators.

  2. The INS developed IDENT to provide a more reliable method for identifying aliens who made multiple attempts to enter illegally (recidivists) or who had committed criminal offenses. The INS needed to track how many times aliens were apprehended because, due to the high number of aliens illegally crossing the southwest border, United States Attorney's Offices (USAO) generally declined to prosecute aliens unless they were recidivists or suspected of other criminal activity. Thresholds vary among the USAOs, but generally an alien must be apprehended multiple times on the southwest border before the USAO will accept the case from the Border Patrol. Without a biometric system, the INS had to rely on checking the names provided by the apprehended aliens against INS databases or other records.

  3. The IAFIS Criminal Master File is the file that contains the ten-fingerprint records.

  4. The operational costs refer to the additional resource requirements for the Border Patrol that may result due to the identification of criminal aliens, combined with the cost of the integration project from FY 2002 through FY 2007. The study did not include all downstream operational costs to other Department components that would be affected by the increased workload, such as the United States Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Executive Office for Immigration Review, and USAOs.

  5. JMD planned to collect the following data for its Metric Study: IAFIS response times, IAFIS hit rate, criminal history review, IDENT hit rate, image capture and quality, image printing, IDENT/IAFIS mismatches, and search accuracy of rolled versus flat fingerprint comparisons.

  6. Although this requirement was included in the Senate Conference Report accompanying the Department's FY 2003 Appropriations Bill, JMD knew as early as July 2002 that it would be required to submit the report.