Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Foreigners who stay in the United States after their visas expire are not being tracked by the Immigration and Naturalization Service because the agency has not properly managed a $31 million computer system designed to locate them.
According to a report sent yesterday to Attorney General John Ashcroft by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, investigators found no evidence that the INS can locate those who remain illegally in this country.
Of the 19 hijackers who commandeered four jetliners September 11, crashing three into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as many as 10 were in the country illegally, having overstayed visas they obtained as tourists, businessmen or students.
A separate investigation by the Inspector General’s Office, also released yesterday, found that nearly 11 percent of the foreigners paroled or released into the United States under a deferred inspection program did not appear at an INS office to complete the process.
When INS inspectors at the nation’s ports of entry cannot make a decision on a person’s admissibility to the United States, they can require the person to report to an INS district office at a later date.
Paul Martin, spokesman for the Inspector General’s Office, said about 10,000 inspections are deferred each year, but investigators found a lack of adequate procedures to ensure that those who are deferred but fail to appear are either brought in to complete the process or penalized for failing to do so.
Mr. Martin said that in one sample, INS inspectors did not follow up in 75 percent of the cases in which individuals did not appear. Among those who did not appear, he said, more than 50 percent had criminal records or immigration violations when they entered the country.
Officials at the Federation for American Immigration Reform yesterday said the government must develop a database to make it “more difficult for people to just blend into the scenery once they arrive here.”
“There are no guarantees of security in a dangerous and mobile world,” said Dan Stein, executive director of FAIR. “But the lack of a perfect system should not deter us from implementing reasonable precautions that will greatly enhance our security and make it more difficult for foreign terrorists to enter the country, remain here undetected and plan their attacks.”
The Inspector General’s report said those who do not leave the country after their visas expire represent about 40 percent of the 5 million illegal immigrants in the United States.
The report said the Justice Department listed the monitoring of alien overstays as a “management challenge” and had hoped the collection by INS of automated arrival and departure records through its computer program would “help ensure complete and reliable data.”
INS began developing a system to automatically process forms filled out by air passengers in 1995. Both the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000 required the agency to develop an automated entry/exit system to use at ports of entry.
The Inspector General’s report said the program currently operates at only four airports and that INS had not implemented the system at any land or sea ports of entry.
Mr. Martin said that despite having spent $31.2 million on its computer system from fiscal 1996 to fiscal 2000, there is no clear evidence the system meets its intended goals. He said INS had the cooperation of only two airlines.
He also said recent INS projections estimate that an additional $57 million will be needed for fiscal 2001 through fiscal 2005 to complete the system.
The Inspector General’s Office said the INS did not adequately compare interim results to estimates. It said the agency did not convert the project’s intended purpose into measurable goals, did not collect baseline information and did not complete a cost-benefit analysis.

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