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Southwest Border Patrol agents trashed migrant records, audit finds

Overwhelmed officers ordered to omit alien registration numbers

Border Patrol screening and processing
Border Patrol screening and processing

A performance audit covering the period from August 2021, through last month has found that the U.S. Border Patrol, besieged by growing waves of immigration, has encountered big problems keeping track of more than a million migrants annually detained for illegal entry along the nation’s Southwest Border, including San Diego.

"Each year, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter the United States illegally through the Southwest Border with Mexico. In fact, [Customs and Border Protection] encountered more than 1.6 million individuals in the fiscal year 2021," says the September 19 report by the Homeland Security Department's Office of Independent Counsel.

"Southwest Border data includes the San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Big Bend, Del Rio, Laredo, and Rio Grande Valley Sectors," according to the report, which found considerable fault with the government's record-keeping in 384 cases selected for examination.

"Border Patrol agents conducted required record checks on the migrants from our sample that they released into the country," according to the document. "However, Border Patrol did not always assign alien registration numbers, which is necessary to create alien files. These files provide a complete history of a migrant’s immigration encounters."

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The so-called alien registration numbers - A-Numbers for short - are a key feature of the government's migrant tracking system.

But the numbers were missing in a sizable number of the migrant cases sampled because they were deliberately omitted by the Border Patrol to save time, according to the audit.

"We found that Border Patrol did not issue A-numbers for 107 of 384 migrants, most of whom were paroled into the country or issued Notices to Report."

The report attributes the omissions to a crush of migrants swamping inadequate Border Patrol holding stations. "Agents did not always assign A-numbers because they were trying to expedite processing and move migrants out of Border Patrol facilities that were over capacity."

"During periods when facilities were near capacity, Border Patrol headquarters directed agents not to assign A-numbers to reduce processing times," the report says. "Border Patrol headquarters communicated these decisions through informal emails or orally during daily musters. According to Border Patrol agents, the guidance constantly changed depending on the day."

Raising further questions about the system's integrity, documents for a sizable number of the 384 cases selected for review by auditors were missing altogether. "Border Patrol and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could not provide 80 of the requested 384 migrant files because they were either lost, disposed of, or in transit."

Notes the report: "Border Patrol disposed of the files because they did not have A-numbers and were unaware of record retention requirements."

The flawed tracking system, the report says, could pose a growing risk on two fronts.

"As Border Patrol continues to process large numbers of migrants at the Southwest Border, conducting and evaluating the results of record checks is imperative to ensure migrants with aggravated criminal histories, gang or drug cartel affiliations, or terrorist watch list records are not permitted to be released into the United States," according to auditors.

"Further, Border Patrol’s informal and expedited practices for processing migrants could jeopardize the Government’s ability to track migrants released into the United States and ensure migrants appear for immigration proceedings. "

"These issues occurred because [Customs and Border Protection] has not issued a formal policy detailing how to expedite the processing of migrants as apprehension numbers continue to rise."

An August 29 response to the report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency concurred with many of the audit's findings and recommendations and would take action to rectify the problems, though the letter "did not address issuance of A-numbers," the audit says.

"The recommendation is considered unresolved and open until CBP provides a corrective action plan that covers all parts of the recommendation."

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Border Patrol screening and processing
Border Patrol screening and processing

A performance audit covering the period from August 2021, through last month has found that the U.S. Border Patrol, besieged by growing waves of immigration, has encountered big problems keeping track of more than a million migrants annually detained for illegal entry along the nation’s Southwest Border, including San Diego.

"Each year, hundreds of thousands of people attempt to enter the United States illegally through the Southwest Border with Mexico. In fact, [Customs and Border Protection] encountered more than 1.6 million individuals in the fiscal year 2021," says the September 19 report by the Homeland Security Department's Office of Independent Counsel.

"Southwest Border data includes the San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, Big Bend, Del Rio, Laredo, and Rio Grande Valley Sectors," according to the report, which found considerable fault with the government's record-keeping in 384 cases selected for examination.

"Border Patrol agents conducted required record checks on the migrants from our sample that they released into the country," according to the document. "However, Border Patrol did not always assign alien registration numbers, which is necessary to create alien files. These files provide a complete history of a migrant’s immigration encounters."

Sponsored
Sponsored

The so-called alien registration numbers - A-Numbers for short - are a key feature of the government's migrant tracking system.

But the numbers were missing in a sizable number of the migrant cases sampled because they were deliberately omitted by the Border Patrol to save time, according to the audit.

"We found that Border Patrol did not issue A-numbers for 107 of 384 migrants, most of whom were paroled into the country or issued Notices to Report."

The report attributes the omissions to a crush of migrants swamping inadequate Border Patrol holding stations. "Agents did not always assign A-numbers because they were trying to expedite processing and move migrants out of Border Patrol facilities that were over capacity."

"During periods when facilities were near capacity, Border Patrol headquarters directed agents not to assign A-numbers to reduce processing times," the report says. "Border Patrol headquarters communicated these decisions through informal emails or orally during daily musters. According to Border Patrol agents, the guidance constantly changed depending on the day."

Raising further questions about the system's integrity, documents for a sizable number of the 384 cases selected for review by auditors were missing altogether. "Border Patrol and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services could not provide 80 of the requested 384 migrant files because they were either lost, disposed of, or in transit."

Notes the report: "Border Patrol disposed of the files because they did not have A-numbers and were unaware of record retention requirements."

The flawed tracking system, the report says, could pose a growing risk on two fronts.

"As Border Patrol continues to process large numbers of migrants at the Southwest Border, conducting and evaluating the results of record checks is imperative to ensure migrants with aggravated criminal histories, gang or drug cartel affiliations, or terrorist watch list records are not permitted to be released into the United States," according to auditors.

"Further, Border Patrol’s informal and expedited practices for processing migrants could jeopardize the Government’s ability to track migrants released into the United States and ensure migrants appear for immigration proceedings. "

"These issues occurred because [Customs and Border Protection] has not issued a formal policy detailing how to expedite the processing of migrants as apprehension numbers continue to rise."

An August 29 response to the report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the agency concurred with many of the audit's findings and recommendations and would take action to rectify the problems, though the letter "did not address issuance of A-numbers," the audit says.

"The recommendation is considered unresolved and open until CBP provides a corrective action plan that covers all parts of the recommendation."

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