USDOJ/OIG Special Report


The Rafael Resendez-Ramirez Case:

A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of

Its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System

(March, 2000)



  1. Introduction

    This investigation by the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) examined the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS) actions with regard to Rafael Resendez-Ramirez (Resendez). He is a Mexican citizen who has an extensive criminal record and is alleged to have committed multiple murders in the United States.

    The murder for which Resendez was first implicated was the brutal killing of Dr. Claudia Benton in December 1998 near Houston. In January 1999, the local police obtained a warrant for Resendez’s arrest, and the local and state police mounted an extensive effort to find him. Among other measures, the police contacted INS investigators in Houston several times in early 1999 seeking assistance in the search for Resendez. In May 1999, Resendez was linked to three more murders in Texas and Kentucky, and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest. Resendez became known as “the railway killer” because he allegedly traveled around the United States by freight train and committed murders near railroad lines. In June 1999, the FBI formed a multi-agency task force in Houston to capture Resendez and also placed him on its list of “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.”

    In mid-June 1999, a Border Patrol intelligence officer in Del Rio, Texas, thought it important to enroll Resendez into an INS database, called IDENT, to ensure that he would be detained if he were encountered by the Border Patrol or other INS personnel. IDENT is an automated fingerprint identification system, deployed by the INS in 1994, that allows INS employees to identify and track illegal aliens through electronic comparisons of their fingerprints.

    When reviewing IDENT records, the intelligence officer discovered that Resendez had been apprehended by the Border Patrol in Texas and New Mexico seven times in 1998 while crossing the border illegally, had been enrolled in IDENT each time, and had been “voluntarily returned” to Mexico each time without formal proceedings. Most surprisingly, IDENT showed that on June 1, 1999 – at the same time that state and federal warrants for Resendez were outstanding and law enforcement officers were searching for Resendez in connection with several murders – Border Patrol agents in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, had apprehended him crossing the border illegally, processed him in IDENT, and voluntarily returned him to Mexico the same day, unaware that he was wanted. Allegedly, Resendez quickly returned to the United States illegally and committed four more murders in June 1999. Eventually, on July 13, 1999, Resendez surrendered to U.S. and Texas law enforcement officers near El Paso, Texas.

    The revelation that Resendez had been in the INS’s custody and released generated sharp criticism. The media and members of Congress questioned how this happened and why the INS had voluntarily returned Resendez to Mexico despite his extensive criminal record and the outstanding warrants for his arrest. On a broader level, questions were raised as to whether IDENT was a fundamentally flawed system.

    On June 30, 1999, the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the INS asked the OIG to review the actions of the INS in connection with the Resendez case. Our investigation examined the actions of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended and processed Resendez in IDENT and voluntarily returned him to Mexico in 1998 and 1999. We interviewed these agents and many of their supervisors to determine what they did in each instance as well as to learn about the Border Patrol’s standard practices in such cases. We also examined the actions of INS investigators who were contacted by the law enforcement officers who were seeking to arrest Resendez. We interviewed these investigators and the local and state police who spoke with them. In addition, we interviewed many other INS employees involved with the Resendez case, including several INS intelligence officers who learned about the search for Resendez. We also interviewed FBI employees, Customs Service employees, and Assistant United States Attorneys who had information that was relevant to our inquiry.

    More broadly, to understand how IDENT operated in this case, we examined the design and implementation of IDENT, including the INS policy regarding when “lookouts” for aliens should be entered in IDENT. We analyzed how the lookout policy was distributed throughout the INS and whether the INS employees involved in the Resendez case should have known about it. Because we found a disturbing lack of knowledge among INS employees about IDENT and its procedures, we also examined how INS employees were trained on its use. In this inquiry, we interviewed managers at INS Headquarters who were responsible for the implementation and operation of IDENT, INS employees and contractors involved in training INS employees on IDENT, INS employees in the field offices involved in the Resendez matter, and Justice Management Division employees involved with reviewing the operation of IDENT.

    In total, we interviewed more than 130 individuals, many more than once. We also reviewed thousands of pages of documents from the INS and other agencies, including the INS’s “Alien File” (“A-file”) on Resendez; his records in IDENT and other INS and criminal databases; INS written policies and procedures regarding IDENT; INS records relating to the design and implementation of IDENT; INS records concerning IDENT training; and statistical information regarding IDENT usage and prosecutions of aliens for immigration-related offenses.

    This Executive Summary briefly describes the main findings and recommendations of our report. It does not include all or even most of the details and events that the report contains. We believe that the entire report should be read for a fuller and fairer understanding of the results of this investigation.

  2. The Background of IDENT and the Search for Resendez

    1. The IDENT System

      Each year, the INS apprehends approximately 1.5 million aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally or who are in the United States illegally. The majority of these apprehensions occur along the Southwest Border. Reliance on the names these apprehended aliens provide is problematic, since they may use aliases and often do not carry identification papers. A solution to this problem is to use “biometrics” – biological measurements unique to each individual such as fingerprints – to identify apprehended aliens.

      In 1989, the INS began developing such a biometric system, the automated fingerprint identification system that eventually became known as IDENT. When Congress first appropriated money for the system, it noted that the system was an attempt “to address the so-called revolving door phenomenon of illegal entry by aliens . . . to clearly define the problems of recidivism as well as to immediately identify those criminal aliens who should remain in the custody of the INS.” After several pilot studies, the INS began implementing IDENT in 1994, first along the Southwest Border and then at many Border Patrol Stations, INS District Offices, and ports of entry throughout the United States.

      The INS’s goal is to enroll virtually all apprehended aliens in IDENT. To enroll an alien in IDENT, an INS employee places the alien’s right and left index fingers on the IDENT fingerprint scanner, 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 two IDENT databases: 1) a “lookout” database that contains fingerprints and photographs of approximately 400,000 aliens who have been previously deported by the INS or who have a significant criminal history; and 2) a “recidivist” database that contains fingerprints and photographs of over a million illegal aliens who have been apprehended by the INS and enrolled in IDENT since it was deployed.

      IDENT first compares the apprehended alien’s fingerprints against the records in the lookout database. If there is a potential match, IDENT presents on the computer screen the fingerprints and photograph of the potential match next to the fingerprints and photograph of the apprehended alien. IDENT next compares the apprehended alien’s fingerprints against the recidivist database and presents any potential matches. The INS employee is supposed to confirm or deny a potential match based on a visual comparison of the fingerprints and photographs. This entire process normally takes two minutes.

      Because of resource limitations, the Border Patrol does not detain or seek to prosecute all the aliens they apprehend for illegally entering the United States. Normally, if IDENT’s lookout database shows that the alien has been previously deported or has an extensive criminal record, the Border Patrol agent will detain and refer the alien for prosecution for “reentry after deportation” or “entry without inspection.” In addition, individual Border Patrol stations and sectors, in conjunction with local United States Attorneys’ Offices, set a “threshold” number of apprehensions for illegal entry after which the alien should be prosecuted for “entry without inspection,” even if the alien does not have a criminal record or has not been previously deported.

      When aliens are detained for prosecution or there are aggravating factors associated with their apprehension (such as persistent false statements, combativeness, indications that the alien has been previously incarcerated, or indications that the alien is a smuggler), Border Patrol agents should request a records check on the aliens in other INS and criminal databases. To do so, the Border Patrol agent normally must call the Border Patrol sector’s communications office, commonly known as the “radio room,” which has direct links to various INS and criminal databases. These include the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which contains criminal history information and outstanding warrants submitted by participating federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies on millions of individuals; INS databases containing records of prior INS contacts with the alien, such as deportations; and a Customs Service database (TECS) that is typically used by Customs and INS inspectors at ports of entry to check in-coming travelers. These additional database checks are requested for only a small fraction of the large number of aliens who the Border Patrol apprehends. If the alien is not going to be prosecuted, normally the Border Patrol agent will “voluntarily return” Mexican aliens across the border without formal proceedings. Mexican aliens who are apprehended near the border typically are returned within a short time after their apprehensions.

    2. Resendez’s Criminal History and Apprehensions by the INS

      1. Resendez’s Criminal History and Encounters with the INS Before 1998

        According to his birth certificate, Resendez was born on August 1, 1959, in Izucar de Matamoros, Puebla, Mexico. Records we obtained from the INS, the FBI, and state and local authorities show that Resendez has an extensive criminal record in the United States, beginning in 1976. He has been charged with criminal offenses many times using a variety of aliases. His record includes convictions in:

        • 1977 in Mississippi for destroying private property;

        • 1980 in Florida for burglary, aggravated assault, and grand theft auto;

        • 1986 in Texas for making a false representation of U.S. citizenship;

        • 1989 in Missouri for falsely representing to be a U.S. citizen; being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm; and reentry after deportation;

        • 1992 in New Mexico for burglary;

        • 1993 in Texas for evading arrest;

        • 1995 in California for trespassing; and

        • 1996 in Kentucky for trespassing.

        Resendez was also arrested for additional offenses. In some instances, these charges were not pursued because of more serious offenses in other jurisdictions; in other instances, we simply could not determine the outcome of the charges based on the available records.

        Significantly, in 1994 Resendez was arrested by the Albuquerque, New Mexico, police for driving a stolen vehicle and released on bond. He was later indicted for this offense. When he did not appear to face the charges, a bench warrant was issued for his arrest and the warrant was placed in the FBI’s NCIC database. This warrant remained outstanding until after Resendez’s surrender on July 13, 1999.

        For several of his convictions, Resendez received significant prison sentences. Typically, he did not serve the full sentence before being released from prison and voluntarily returned or deported to Mexico by the INS. The available records indicate that before 1998 the INS voluntarily returned Resendez to Mexico at least four times and formally deported him at least three other times. The records are not clear whether he was returned to Mexico on several other occasions after he was released from prison. However, it is clear that after each return to Mexico, he re-entered the United States illegally and continued his criminal activities.

      2. The INS Apprehensions and Voluntary Returns of Resendez in 1998

        The earliest record in IDENT about an apprehension of Resendez by the Border Patrol is from January 1998. According to IDENT, the Border Patrol apprehended Resendez trying to enter the United States illegally from Mexico on the following seven occasions in 1998:

        1. January 5, 1998, by agents from the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Station;

        2. January 7, 1998, by agents from the Uvalde, Texas, Border Patrol Station;

        3. January 8, 1998, by agents from the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Station;

        4. April 17, 1998, by agents from the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, Border Patrol Station;

        5. April 21, 1998, by agents from the Uvalde, Texas, Border Patrol Station;

        6. April 22, 1998, by agents from the Del Rio, Texas, Border Patrol Station;

        7. November 3, 1998, by agents from the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, Border Patrol Station.

        Our full report provides the details of these seven apprehensions and describes the actions taken by these Border Patrol agents each time they apprehended Resendez. Because Resendez had not reached the threshold number of prior apprehensions for prosecution established in each of the stations where he was apprehended, he was not detained for prosecution. On each of these seven occasions, Border Patrol agents enrolled Resendez in IDENT and voluntarily returned him to Mexico. At the time they did so, none of the agents learned of Resendez’s extensive criminal record, his record of deportations, or any outstanding warrant for him before they returned him to Mexico. None of that information was in IDENT.

    3. The Investigation of Resendez for Murder

      1. The Murder of Dr. Benton

        On December 16, 1998, Dr. Claudia Benton was murdered in her home in West University Place, a small town located within the Houston, Texas, city limits. She was stabbed, beaten, and sexually assaulted, and items were stolen from her home, including a Jeep that was recovered the next day in a motel parking lot near San Antonio, Texas. The police obtained fingerprints at Dr. Benton’s home and from the Jeep and submitted them to several state fingerprint identification databases for comparison. The fingerprints were determined to be Resendez’s. On January 5, 1999, local law enforcement authorities obtained a warrant for Resendez’s arrest and placed it in the FBI’s NCIC database.

      2. The Police Contact the INS about Resendez

        The police mounted extensive efforts to find Resendez. Because they knew that Resendez was a Mexican citizen, in January 1999 the police attempted to place lookouts for him in case he was apprehended at the border. First, a Houston police analyst contacted an employee of the Customs Service and asked her to place a “border alert” in TECS, a Customs Service database that typically is used by Customs Service and INS inspectors at ports of entry to check in-coming travelers.

        Second, in January 1999 a West University Place police detective contacted a special agent in the INS’s Houston Investigations office about placing a “border lookout” for Resendez. That agent referred the detective to another Customs Service agent to place a lookout in TECS. The INS agent did not mention IDENT.

        Third, in January 1999 the West University Place police detective contacted the INS’s Houston District Investigations office again to obtain Resendez’s A-file and to seek more information on him. The detective’s inquiry was assigned to a second INS special agent in the Houston Investigations office. This INS special agent was told to provide the police with Resendez’s A-file and any other assistance necessary. In February 1999, police detectives met with this second INS special agent in the Houston INS District Office and reviewed Resendez’s A-file. The detectives mentioned their previous attempts to place a lookout for Resendez at the border. In response, the INS special agent did not mention IDENT. Rather, he called a friend at the Customs Service to try to confirm that a lookout for Resendez had been entered into TECS. The Customs Service employee told the OIG that his computer “crashed” when he tried to check whether there was a lookout for Resendez, and apparently no one followed up on whether the lookout for Resendez had been ever placed in the Customs Service database. In fact, during our review we found that no lookout for Resendez was entered into TECS until after he was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list in June 1999.

        Fourth, after the February 1999 meeting with the police detectives, the second INS special agent provided information about the Resendez case to the INS Houston District’s intelligence officer. The intelligence officer included information about Resendez in his “Weekly Intelligence Report,” a memorandum distributed within the INS Houston District Office and the INS Central Region. Two Central Region Intelligence Office employees read the information about Resendez in the report and offered to make an electronic wanted poster for Resendez to be distributed to INS Border Patrol stations and other INS offices, if the Houston intelligence officer provided a photograph of Resendez. The Houston intelligence officer told the OIG that in response he mailed Resendez’s photograph to the Central Region Intelligence employee; that employee told the OIG that he never received the photograph. No one ever followed up on the suggestion to make the electronic wanted posted and none was made.

        Fifth, in March 1999, a Texas Ranger who was assigned to aid the police investigation of Dr. Benton’s murder contacted a third INS special agent in the INS Houston Investigations office for information on Resendez. The Texas Ranger met with this special agent at the INS Houston District Office and copied Resendez’s A-file. A few days later, the Texas Ranger heard from a colleague that the INS had an “internal system” for putting “holds” on aliens. Although the Texas Ranger did not know the name of IDENT, he called the INS special agent who had given him the A-file and asked him to put an “internal hold” on Resendez in the internal INS system. The Texas Ranger said he understood that the INS special agent would do so. The Texas Ranger provided us the notes of his conversation with the INS special agent in which he asked for the internal hold to be placed. Yet, the INS special agent apparently did nothing in response to the request from the Texas Ranger.

      3. Resendez is Linked to More Murders

        On April 30, 1999, Norman and Karen Sirnic were murdered in their home in Weimar, Texas. They were beaten to death with a sledgehammer, and Mrs. Sirnic was sexually assaulted. Through DNA evidence, the Texas Rangers linked Resendez as the alleged murderer of Dr. Benton and Mr. and Mrs. Sirnic. In addition, an FBI “profiler” examining the murders of Dr. Benton and Mr. and Mrs. Sirnic linked these killings with the murder of Christopher Maier and the sexual assault of his companion, which had occurred in August 1997 near railroad tracks in Lexington, Kentucky.

        On May 27, 1999, the FBI obtained a federal warrant for Resendez, charging him with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, and the FBI entered that warrant in NCIC.

      4. The Border Patrol Apprehends and Returns Resendez to Mexico on June 1, 1999

        On the evening of June 1, 1999, Resendez was apprehended by two Border Patrol agents from the Santa Teresa, New Mexico, Border Patrol Station. When a seismic sensor near the border about seven miles east of the station was activated, Border Patrol agents responded to the area and saw someone running into the brush. With the assistance of a Border Patrol helicopter, they apprehended Resendez hiding in the brush.

        The two Border Patrol agents who apprehended Resendez told the OIG that they noticed nothing unusual about him and described him as quiet, respectful, and unobtrusive. A third Border Patrol agent who processed Resendez at the station did not remember him. According to IDENT records, when Resendez was processed on June 1, 1999, IDENT presented five of his prior apprehensions in 1998 as possible matches. The enrolling agent “denied” each of the possible matches in IDENT. He told the OIG that he did not remember doing this. He said that if an alien had not reached the prosecution “threshold” established in the Santa Teresa Station and there were no unusual circumstances regarding the apprehension, he normally would neither confirm nor deny the match or even look at the photographs of the previous apprehensions. The agent also said he did not seek further records checks because Resendez had not reached the prosecution threshold in Santa Teresa. The agent did not know that Resendez was wanted in connection with several murders, had been previously deported three times by the INS, or had an extensive criminal record. Consequently, the Border Patrol voluntarily returned Resendez to Mexico shortly after his apprehension on June 1.

      5. The Discovery that the INS Had Apprehended and Released Resendez

        Because of the concern that Resendez was a serial killer, on June 8, 1999, the FBI formed a multi-agency task force in Houston, Texas, to apprehend him. On June 9, in connection with the work of the task force, INS and FBI agents sent a notice about Resendez to Border Patrol checkpoints and ports of entry. The notice, which included a photograph of Resendez and information about his record and the murders he allegedly committed, asked Border Patrol agents to be on the alert for him. When the lead intelligence officer for the Del Rio Border Patrol Sector received the notice, he became concerned about the safety of any Border Patrol agents who might come in contact with Resendez. He therefore decided to enter a lookout for Resendez in IDENT. After talking with a number of INS employees about how to do this, he located a set of Resendez’s fingerprints and sent them to the INS’s Biometric Support Center (BSC) in Washington, D.C., the entity responsible for entering lookouts into the IDENT database. On June 23, the BSC entered a lookout for Resendez in IDENT.

        Also, in an effort to assist the FBI task force in finding Resendez, the lead Del Rio intelligence officer checked IDENT for any information on Resendez. He learned that IDENT contained information that Resendez had been apprehended seven times by the Border Patrol in 1998 as well as on June 1, 1999. The officer provided this information to the FBI task force and INS Headquarters. This revelation was eventually disclosed publicly and generated a firestorm of criticism about the INS’s actions.

        On July 13, 1999, Resendez crossed the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and surrendered to U.S. and Texas law enforcement officials at a port of entry near El Paso, Texas. Resendez was arrested, enrolled in IDENT, and taken before a state magistrate. He was then flown to Houston to await trial, first for the murder of Dr. Benton.

  3. OIG Analysis

    1. The Actions of the Border Patrol Agents Who Apprehended and Voluntarily Returned Resendez to Mexico in 1998 and 1999

      We concluded that the Border Patrol agents who apprehended Resendez and voluntarily returned him to Mexico each time, including the agents who returned him on June 1, 1999, did so in accord with standard Border Patrol practices. Resendez had not reached the “threshold” number of apprehensions established in any of the places he was apprehended in order for him to be detained and prosecuted for entry without inspection. In addition, IDENT did not contain any lookout for Resendez or other information that would have indicated to the Border Patrol agent that Resendez should be detained or prosecuted.

      However, during our interviews of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended and processed Resendez, they exhibited confusion about IDENT procedures. We also found that they made mistakes in how they processed Resendez in IDENT, including how they responded to possible matches for him. Although none of these mistakes affected the outcome in Resendez’s case (because Resendez had not reached the prosecution threshold in any place he was apprehended), these mistakes may have been important if a lookout for Resendez had been entered in IDENT, and similar mistakes could affect the outcome in other apprehensions.

    2. The Actions of INS Employees Who Learned About the Search for Resendez

      In response to an OIG Inspection report on the operation of IDENT, in August 1998 the INS distributed an IDENT lookout and alert policy throughout the INS. Resendez clearly qualified under this policy for inclusion in the IDENT lookout database, since he had an extensive and serious criminal record, he had been previously deported by the INS several times, and by early 1999 he was wanted in connection with a brutal murder.

      Yet, none of the INS investigators who were contacted by the law enforcement officers seeking Resendez in early 1999 thought to have a lookout for him placed in IDENT. One investigator apparently did nothing and two other investigators referred the police to Customs Service employees to place a lookout for Resendez in TECS. Because TECS typically is used to check in-coming passengers at ports of entry, a lookout in TECS might have been useful if Resendez was apprehended attempting to enter the United States by presenting himself at a port of entry (and did not use a new alias). But many aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally do not present themselves at ports of entry. Resendez’s pattern of entry was like that of most illegal entrants along the Southwest Border – he attempted to cross the border in remote areas, between ports of entry. IDENT would have been useful if he were apprehended in that circumstance; TECS was not.

      During all of the contacts by the police with Houston INS investigators, none of them thought to enter a lookout for Resendez in IDENT in case he was apprehended by the Border Patrol attempting to cross the border illegally. No one even informed the police about IDENT or told them that IDENT could be checked to determine if, when, and where Resendez had been previously apprehended by the INS entering the United States illegally. The police told us that information in IDENT about Resendez’s border crossings would have been extremely useful to their investigation because it would have provided leads in their search.

      The INS intelligence officers in the Houston District Office and the INS Central Region who suggested distributing an electronic wanted poster for Resendez at the border also did not think of using IDENT. Moreover, no one followed through with the suggestion to distribute a wanted poster.

      We heard various explanations from these INS employees as to why they never used IDENT or mentioned it to the police who were seeking Resendez. Some said they knew about IDENT but thought it was the job of others to place a lookout in IDENT. Others said they did not understand IDENT or realize that a lookout could be placed for an alien who was not in custody. Several said they were not familiar with IDENT at all. Many said that they were not trained in IDENT or that their training did not cover the lookout portion of IDENT.

      We were troubled by these explanations. Essentially, most of these INS employees attributed their failure to use IDENT in the Resendez case to their lack of knowledge about the system. Yet, several had received training on IDENT and most acknowledged that they received the August 1998 memorandum about the lookout policy. Nevertheless, they still did not understand or use IDENT.

    3. Broader Problems with the INS’s Implementation and Use of IDENT

      We also concluded that the problems we found in the Resendez case were indicative of, and partly caused by, larger problems in the INS’s design and implementation of IDENT. First, when IDENT was developed the INS decided to place lookouts in it on a “day-forward” basis. This diminished IDENT’s usefulness in identifying criminal aliens such as Resendez, who had many convictions and deportations before IDENT was implemented. In addition, IDENT was not, and is still not, linked with other INS or criminal databases.

      Second, the INS’s Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM), which developed and implemented IDENT, focused on IDENT usage by the Border Patrol. Although one of the stated missions of IDENT is to help the INS identify and apprehend criminal aliens, our review found that many INS employees viewed it primarily as a database to help the Border Patrol track repeat illegal border crossers, not a useful tool for other INS components.

      However, the Resendez case clearly demonstrates the potential value of IDENT to INS investigators. Placing criminal or wanted aliens in IDENT’s lookout database can help increase the chance that these aliens will be detained if they are encountered by the INS. IDENT also can assist investigators by providing information documenting an alien’s pattern of border crossings and location of recent apprehensions, which can provide leads for locating the alien. The INS’s Executive Associate Commissioner for Field Operations told us that he believed that all INS components involved with aliens should use IDENT. But we found that many INS program offices, including Investigations and Intelligence offices, failed to use it consistently or effectively.

      Third, we found that IDENT training, particularly outside the Border Patrol, was ineffective or non-existent. In the OIG’s 1998 Inspection report on IDENT, we noted problems with IDENT training and recommended that the INS develop and implement a strategy for sufficiently training INS personnel using IDENT. Unfortunately, the INS largely rejected this recommendation, claiming that its IDENT training was adequate and that INS personnel were “becoming more comfortable using IDENT in day-to-day operations.” As late as July 1999, the INS asserted that the OIG’s recommendation was based on an old review and that INS agents had a much greater awareness of the IDENT processes.

      But as we learned through our review of the Resendez case, the INS’s assessment was wrong and the INS had failed to effectively train its employees on IDENT. When we interviewed INS employees in various offices involved with the Resendez case, we found that their knowledge of IDENT was severely lacking. Many INS employees with whom we spoke, particularly those outside the Border Patrol, had little knowledge about IDENT. The training that was provided to employees outside the Border Patrol did not explain the benefit of IDENT to their work or how they could use IDENT to advance their mission. And no IDENT training was provided to INS Intelligence employees outside the Border Patrol. Even Border Patrol agents who regularly processed apprehended aliens had significant gaps in their knowledge about IDENT and its procedures.

      In particular, we found significant shortcomings in INS employees’ knowledge of and adherence to the procedures that had been distributed in August 1998 regarding the IDENT lookout policy. Although the INS disseminated this lookout policy widely and required certification that INS employees had read it, the INS did little to ensure that it was understood or followed. The INS provided no training on the lookout policy, and INS managers and supervisors simply assumed agents in the field would use the policy and have appropriate aliens entered into the lookout database.

      This assumption was misguided. We found a distinct and widespread lack of knowledge about the lookout policy among the Houston investigators we interviewed, many of whom acknowledged that they did not know about the lookout policy and did not use IDENT. Even in the Del Rio and El Paso Border Patrol Sectors, many agents exhibited a distinct lack of knowledge about the lookout policy. We also found that INS Detention and Deportation (D&D) offices that should have had lookouts entered for many aliens they processed were not aware of or were not following the IDENT lookout policy. Most important, although INS managers proclaimed that IDENT should be used by all enforcement components in the INS, no one was monitoring whether INS offices other than the Border Patrol were complying with IDENT procedures. These larger problems partly explain why the INS investigators and intelligence officers who were involved in the Resendez case never thought to use IDENT.

    4. Integration of IDENT with the FBI’s Automated Fingerprint Identification Database

      Since approximately 1990, when the INS and the FBI began developing their own automated fingerprint identification systems, the two agencies have discussed integrating their systems. However, the INS had differing needs for its system and developed it faster than the FBI developed its own systems. The INS therefore deployed IDENT in 1994, while the FBI still was developing its Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS) and NCIC 2000. Although the INS and the FBI periodically discussed integration of their systems and the Department of Justice periodically examined the potential connection of the agencies’ systems, no agreement on integration was reached. As a result, when the FBI finally deployed IAFIS and NCIC 2000 in July 1999, these fingerprint systems were not linked with IDENT, and there were no plans to do so.

      It is important to keep in mind that the FBI’s automated fingerprint identification systems were not yet operational when the Resendez case unfolded. However, the Resendez case vividly illustrates the need for the integration of IDENT and IAFIS. The Resendez case has spurred the FBI and the INS, at the direction of Congress and under the guidance of the Department’s Justice Management Division (JMD), to develop an integration plan. The current plan, described in a March 1, 2000, report issued by JMD, proposes a “conceptual model” that would initially allow the fingerprints of apprehended aliens taken by the INS to be searched against a subset of the FBI’s Criminal Master File and eventually against the entire master file. The plan proposes that in fiscal year 2000 JMD, the FBI, and the INS would conduct three studies to help determine the feasibility of the plan. According to the March 1 report, the integration plan may not be implemented fully for five years.

      Based on our review, we believe that integrating IDENT with the FBI’s IAFIS is a critical step that should be accomplished as expeditiously as possible. We also believe that the Department of Justice must continue to provide leadership on this issue to ensure that any differences between the FBI and the INS about integration of their automated fingerprint identification systems are overcome and the plan implemented quickly.

  4. OIG Recommendations

    At the end of the report, we make 25 recommendations to address the systemic problems we found during our review. These recommendations fall into four areas: 1) improving the operation of IDENT; 2) improving training and education of INS employees about IDENT and its uses; 3) integrating IDENT with FBI and INS databases; and 4) miscellaneous recommendations to address other issues we found in this review.

    1) With regard to the operation of IDENT, our recommendations include:

    2) With regard to improved training and education about IDENT, our recommendations include:

    3) With regard to integrating IDENT with FBI and INS databases, our recommendations include:

    4) Our miscellaneous recommendations include:

  5. OIG Conclusions

    The Resendez case created enormous controversy and generated serious questions about the actions of the INS as well as the operation of IDENT. Our review determined that the Border Patrol agents who processed Resendez and returned him to Mexico did so in accord with standard Border Patrol practices. These agents were not apprised, through IDENT or otherwise, of Resendez’s extensive criminal record, his history of prior deportations by the INS, or the outstanding warrants for his arrest. Although we found that the Border Patrol agents made some mistakes in how they processed Resendez in IDENT, none of these mistakes affected their decisions to voluntarily return him to Mexico.

    Rather, the key individual failings we found was that the INS employees who were contacted early in 1999 by law enforcement officers seeking Resendez never thought to place a lookout for Resendez in IDENT, and they failed to even mention IDENT to the law enforcement officers. And the intelligence employees who considered distributing an electronic wanted poster for Resendez never followed through with that idea.

    Yet, through our interviews, we found that their failure to consider or use IDENT was largely the result of broader problems in the way that the INS implemented and monitored the system. We found that IDENT was predominantly viewed within the INS as a system for the Border Patrol to identify and track apprehended aliens, not a system that would identify criminal aliens who needed to be detained. INS components outside the Border Patrol, such as Investigations and Intelligence, did not consider IDENT to be useful in their work and did not use it regularly. The INS failed to ensure that its employees in components outside the Border Patrol understood IDENT policies, particularly the IDENT lookout policy, or used IDENT in their work. The INS also failed to provide adequate training in IDENT policies or to ensure that the training resulted in an adequate understanding and widespread use of IDENT throughout the INS.

    Despite all the failings in the INS’s implementation and use of IDENT, many INS employees told us that IDENT is a valuable system that should not be abandoned. They emphasized that before the implementation of IDENT it was impossible to identify or keep track of recidivist alien border crossers, and aliens who were repeatedly apprehended faced no risk of prosecution. Moreover, IDENT’s lookout database has resulted in some criminal aliens being detained and prosecuted. We also heard repeatedly from the law enforcement officers outside the INS to whom we spoke about IDENT that now that they know about the system, they think it can be a valuable tool for identifying and apprehending criminal aliens. We agree and believe that IDENT and its use should be improved rather than abandoned.

    We also concluded that the Department should aggressively and expeditiously pursue integration of IDENT with FBI’s IAFIS. In the interim, the INS should take specific measures, such as the ones we recommended, to improve the operation and usefulness of IDENT. While some of these measures may be expensive, we believe they are critical steps that could help prevent tragedies similar to the Resendez case.