Haphazard Border Processing and Tracking Reported by DHS Inspector General’s Office

By Elizabeth Jacobs on September 28, 2022

The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (DHS OIG) last week issued a report reviewing the screening process DHS uses to prevent aliens with criminal backgrounds or individuals on the terrorist watch list from being released into the interior of the United States. DHS OIG found that Border Patrol often failed to assign aliens alien registration numbers (A-number), which is necessary to create a file to track aliens.

Specifically, DHS OIG reported that nearly 28 percent of aliens (107 out of 384) selected as a statistical sample were never assigned A-numbers. Further, of the remaining 277 aliens, DHS OIG determined that 80 aliens’ A-Files were either disposed of or missing, representing almost a third of this pool. Of the 107 aliens released into the United States without A-numbers, DHS OIG found that nearly all were issued Notices to Report (NTRs; note: this is not a Notice to Appear, which summons the recipient to an immigration court hearing) or paroled into the United States.

A-numbers, however, are essential to allow immigration and law enforcement officials to track and locate an alien’s A-file for a complete history of their immigration encounters. An A-file documents an alien’s history of encounters with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and contains critical documents such as immigration forms, agent narratives of apprehension, and record checks. Additionally, the records contained in an A-file may serve as important evidence supporting an alien’s eligibility (or ineligibility) for immigration benefits that they may seek after entering the United States, including asylum.

According to Border Patrol officials’ testimony, many migrants were not assigned A-numbers in an effort to expedite processing and move migrants out of facilities that were exceeding capacity limits. So far this fiscal year, more than two million aliens have illegally crossed the border into the United States. More than 1.3 million illegal border-crossers have been released into the United States since January 2021. (About 49 percent of those encountered at the southern border were expelled under CDC orders issued pursuant to Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.) Agents also reported that the guidance from supervisors constantly changed depending on the day, further complicating agents’ ability to respond to the crisis.

DHS OIG also found that CBP has not issued any formal policy detailing how to expedite processing of migrants as apprehension numbers continue to rise. The lack of formal policy has led to a haphazard approach where aliens with similar immigration histories are being treated differently by DHS officials, many of whom are lacking critical records. DHS OIG emphasized that, “Because DHS continues to experience surges, it is critical that Border Patrol establish formal policies detailing expedited processing procedures to ensure proper documentation of screening procedures and adequate tracking of migrants released into the United States.”

CBP’s failure to properly process illegal crossers at the border may be subjecting immigration officials, law enforcement, aliens, and their attorneys to a bureaucratic nightmare in the coming years. Even DHS OIG concluded that 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.”