Frivolous Use of Scarce Immigration Control Funds (Continued)

By David North on August 13, 2010

It is not OK for government employees to play pool or poker during office hours, but it is OK, apparently, for them to play expensive games with scarce taxpayer-supplied, immigration-control funds.

Congress, its semi-autonomous watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have all had their frivolous moments recently. It might have been better for the nation had the people involved spent their work days inside a pool hall.

Controlling illegal immigration is a tedious, under-funded task, and I have mentioned in a previous blog; the nation needs more detention officers with more authority, and more removal funds; further, there should be more inspectors at the ports of entry, so that they have more time to examine individuals wanting to enter the country. But, all too often, our leaders focus on high-tech, or glamorous matters which have little relation to the main threats to immigration security. For instance:

  • Congress went into special sessions during the week of August 9 to vote $600 million in supplemental funds for border security, which was fine, except that $32 million of that goes for two unmanned drones to spot illegal aliens in the desert, a showy, wasteful expense.

  • GAO, for the second time in three years, has gamed the U.S. passport issuance system, getting five of seven totally fraudulent applications past the State Department this time around. Passports should be issued carefully, of course, but the number of illegal aliens who get into this nation with a fraudulently obtained U.S. passport is minimal.

  • USCIS has devoted lots of staff time recently to make sure that no one in show business has to wait for visas for foreign singers, dancers, actors, and athletes; Hollywood is pleased.

While unmanned drones are probably useful in Afghanistan to hunt down and kill Taliban leaders, the situation is quite different at our southern border. The Border Patrol can and does obtain plenty of information on the location of illegal aliens from sensors, airplanes and a variety of other sources, but what it really needs are more agents to catch them, and more detention officers to process them.

Further, from my own experience on the border some years ago and from conversations with helicopter pilots there, I have the impression that a helicopter can do just about everything a drone can, and a lot more.

Though I do not have recent cost figures for BP helicopters, ten years ago, according to a GAO report, the Border Patrol was buying them at $1.3 million each. Let's assume that the cost has quadrupled since then, to $5.2 million each; you could still buy half a dozen helicopters for the price of the two drones. For the text of the supplemental appropriation bill, see here.

For sheer fun and games nothing can rival the confrontation between the GAO and the State Department's Passport Office.

Three years ago some skilled operatives at GAO decided to see if they could cause the State Department to issue valid passports as a result of fraudulent applications. In one instance, GAO used a Social Security number that had been issued to a man who had died in 1965; in another, they used counterfeit materials related to a small child to obtain a passport for a man of 53. They filed four phony applications and, despite glaring problems with the documents, all four were approved by State.

Through the color-it-grey prose of this GAO report, you could see that GAO was having a ball. They made a lot of sensible recommendations to State, and State said it was adopting them.

If it was fun once, why not twice?

After a second go-round, the GAO issued a report on July 29 entitled "Undercover Tests Show Passport Issuance Process Remains Vulnerable to Fraud." This time, GAO upped the ante, trying to obtain seven passports based on phony applications.

This time GAO clearly succeeded three times, and State clearly denied two others. The final two applications were initially approved by State but then the department sensed something was wrong, and wrested the two approved applications back before they could be delivered.

Reading the testimony on the report by Brenda Sprague, Deputy Assistant Secretary in charge of the Passport Office, you can sense that she was seething. But she was too close to the issue to make my point: that of all the ways to get into the U.S. illicitly, the least likely is to obtain a U.S. passport through a fraudulent application. (And, in my 40 years or so dealing with the subject, I have never heard of a counterfeit U.S. passport.)

This was the fourth time since 2005 that the GAO had paid attention to this specific subject, and this year's passport report was one of a set of three this summer dealing with counterfeit or fraudulently obtained immigration-related documents. One of these reports was discussed in my blog, cited above, and the other, issued in June, dealt with a truly tiny threat.

The GAO discovered that the Government of American Samoa issued a Certificate of Identity (CI) stating that the holder was a native of American Samoa, thus a U.S. national (a variation on U.S. citizen) and eligible to enter the U.S. GAO was not impressed by the security of this operation – there is, for instance, no computerized list of the people issued this document. I agree, it is a matter of some concern.

But since the only way to get directly from American Samoa to the U.S. is on a twice-a- week airplane flight to Honolulu, and since no one but a Polynesian could reasonably have the document, and since there are not that many Polynesians in the world, and since the inspectors working those flights have never sensed any problems with the CIs, the threat scenario is not a very impressive one – but GAO sent a team to American Samoa to report on it anyway.

My notion is that it would be better if GAO could lift its eyes from the apparently intriguing questions of document issuance and started using its considerable intellectual abilities on the massive enforcement problems at the southern border, as articulated, for instance, by the blogs of my colleague, Janice Kephart.

Rounding out the set of relatively trivial pursuits by government officials was the comprehensive attention that USCIS has been paying to the handling of P visas; these are for athletes, actors, and entertainers. There have been some complaints from show business that they could not get the visas they wanted as fast as they wanted, so the director of the agency, Alejandro Mayorkas, has made a priority of changing that process, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

In this instance, the investment was in terms of staff time.