- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday said illegal aliens continue to be among the millions of foreigners who pass annually into the United States, although it did not know how many successfully avoid detection each year at the nation's airports and border checkpoints.
But Michael D. Cronin, INS assistant commissioner for inspections, said since the September 11 attacks the agency has "designed and calibrated" a border inspection system at the 300 guarded ports of entry that is designed to identify "persons of highest interest to us," including terrorists and other major criminals.
"Our highest focus are high-risk individuals, and that program is working," Mr. Cronin said. "I'm not going to suggest that illegal aliens are not getting through, but we are focused on counterterrorism and the identification of major criminals. And these folks are going to be caught."
Mr. Cronin's comments were in response to a story yesterday in The Washington Times that reported on an INS-commissioned study saying as many as 5 million illegal aliens armed with bogus documents were entering the country each year through the nation's ports of entry because of inadequate screening methods.
The study, conducted by Palmer Morrel-Samuels, former University of Michigan research psychologist, said one in nine illegal aliens was being stopped at the border by INS inspectors and between 2.95 million and 5.45 million illegal immigrants successfully cross undetected into the United States each year through guarded ports of entry.
That total did not include an estimated 3 million to 5 million illegal aliens who cross each year into the country through unguarded border areas.
"I certainly wouldn't suggest that no one amenable to action doesn't get through the ports of entry, but the question remains how much the system can handle in terms of how fine an examination is conducted," Mr. Cronin said. "You do what you can in terms of the size of the traveling public, and I'm not sure about the traveling public's tolerance."
Mr. Cronin declined to speculate on the number of illegal aliens who enter the country each year but said most foreign travelers get a "60-second look" at the airports and border checkpoints and INS inspectors are "well-trained and extremely good" at detecting fraudulent documents and suspicious persons.
More than 500 million travelers enter the country yearly through airports and border checkpoints. The Morrel-Samuels study was aimed at measuring the inspection process, known as the Inspections' Traveler Examination (Intex), as part of an effort to improve the system.
The study was turned over to the INS last year but received little public notice.
Mr. Cronin said efforts had been under way to incorporate the study's findings into a workable response. But, he said, after the September 11 attacks, the project was "terminated" and the INS inspection process was focused on the identification of terrorists and other major criminals.
Mr. Cronin also said he was unsure whether the public would tolerate any increase in the current delays at the country's border checkpoints and airports and noted that expanded checks would require additional INS inspectors and facilities.
In the meantime, he said, security procedures have been increased at all border stations, including name and vehicle license checks. He said every person coming into the United States is required to present travel documents and all INS inspectors have been told to intensify their efforts.
Efforts are ongoing to improve the quality and timeliness of information INS can share with other law enforcement agencies in a cooperative database effort that will support international enforcement and intelligence operations, Mr. Cronin said.
The Morrel-Samuels study said INS inspectors typically spent "a minute or two" examining passports, visas or border-crossing cards before granting admission to a foreign traveler during an initial review process. It said random Intex backup checks found that the inspectors had a "very low" rate of success.
The study concluded that a relatively small percentage of travelers were improperly granted entry at each of the ports of entry, but said when compared with the "actual number of travelers, rather than the proportion, the picture is more sobering."

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