1976 Fraudulent Entrants Study

By David North on May 14, 2014

David S. North, now a senior fellow at CIS, is a long-time student of immigration and immigration management policies. He was with Linton & Company, a D.C.-based research organization, when the study was conducted.

"Fraudulent Entrants Study: A Study of Malafide Applicants for Admission at selected Airports and Southwest Land Border Ports" was published when Gerald Ford was president. It deals with an almost totally ignored portion of the illegal alien population, one that continues to bedevil us. It shows that there could be a stunning increase in the identification of one category of illegal aliens – those fraudulently seeking admission at legal entry points – were the government to more thoroughly fund inspections at the ports of entry.

The study’s findings are even more relevant today than they were back in 1976.

It was originally published by the Office of Planning and Evaluation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, in September 1976. (The various components of the INS were incorporated into the Department of Homeland Security a decade ago.) But the report was not available on line until now. The full text can be found at: http://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/1976-Fraudulent-Entrants-Study.pdf

But first, some background: There are three ways a person can become an illegal alien:

  1. There are those who enter surreptitiously between the ports of entry (or along the sea coasts), or smuggled through ports of entry (in, for instance, the trunk of a car). They are called EWI’s (for those who Entered Without Inspection).
  2. There are those who enter through the ports legally bearing genuine, appropriately-issued government documents who later decide to violate the terms of those documents. These are the visa abusers (sometimes called overstayers, though overstaying isn't the only kind of visa abuse). And then:
  3. There are those who come through the ports of entry who should have been stopped there but were not. They arrive through a variety of illicit methods and are called, collectively, malefide or fraudulent applicants for admission. The terms are interchangeable; this is the population that is the subject of this study.

The third group, while significant in size, is presumably the smallest of the three sub-populations. It is largely ignored in policy discussions, though it is by far the easiest to control. By definition, unlike the EWIs, the malefide applicants come through the ports of entry where they are inspected. Further, unlike the visa abusers as defined above, they are potentially identifiable as they pass through the ports.

And, most important of all, it is far easier, both politically and administratively, to stop someone at the nation’s borders than to dig them out of our society after they have settled in to it.

The 1976 study was all about this particular group of illegal aliens, and how their entries could be thwarted. It may have been the last time the government published a study on the subject. (If I am wrong about that, which is possible, I would like to be corrected; contact me at [email protected].)

The basic finding was that a relatively modest investment in additional inspectors would make a major difference in the prevention of illicit entries. That insight is even more important today because Congress continues to tilt the allocation of immigration enforcement away from stopping the malefide entrants, and toward the more glamorous Border Patrol.

Increasingly in recent decades, federal government immigration enforcement resources have been devoted to preventing the entry of the first group of illegals, the EWIs, rather than to the apprehension and expulsion of those already in the nation, and rather than controlling the traffic through the ports. The emphasis on the border is on hiring more – many more – Border Patrol agents while not similarly strengthening the inspection force within the ports.

While the Border Patrol is now generally regarded as adequately staffed, the inspection process at all ports of entry is woefully under-funded. Think of how quickly you, dear reader, were passed into the country the last time you arrived at our border – how quickly, that is, once you finally faced the inspector.

To some extent the ever larger Border Patrol is more of an operatic flourish than an appropriations decision. Providing more strength to the uniformed, mobile cops of the border is a readily understandable political statement. Switching some of those resources to the undramatic tasks at the air, land, and sea ports is not.

Further, and rarely discussed, is the underlying politics of the many-more-agents decision. Enforcing the immigration law in the interior (like enforcing all other laws) sometimes results in family separations, and this creates some controversy. Further, enforcing the immigration law at worksites, something our government used to do quite successfully, irritates exploitive employers and their lobbyists. Enforcing the law within the ports of entry creates either longer lines or the expenditure of more money.

On the other hand, catching EWIs in the desert creates virtually no backlash. And it is dramatic and easily understood. It has strong symbolic value. So, it is well funded.

Unfortunately, S 744, the omnibus immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013, would continue this lop-sided state of affairs. It calls for adding 19,200 new Border Patrol agents to the force, bringing the total to 38,000 or so. It has no similar provisions for additional inspectors at the ports.

The Findings of the 1976 Report. The question to be answered by the study was: how many more fraudulent entrants, if any, would the inspectors identify were they given all the time they needed for inspections? How would those rates of identification differ from those of the INS generally?

The study team inspected nearly a quarter of a million prospective entrants, and concluded the following: With time pressures removed, the identification rate of fraudulent entrants would be multiplied by a factor of 12 over that of INS generally.

During FY 1975 INS intercepted 44, 328 fraudulent entrants at the land and air ports of entry. Were the study’s team identification rates to be applied to the total flows through the ports, the interceptions would have been on the order of 545,000, or 12.3 times as many. The projected admission of an estimated half a million illegal aliens – through this one illicit entry technique – back in 1976 was a huge number. It still is.

The team’s data, when compared to existing INS reports, suggested that the easiest places for malefide applicants to beat the system were at the quieter land ports, such as at Roma and
Laredo, Texas, and Douglas, Ariz. On the other hand, the chances that a malafide applicant would be identified were comparatively higher in the busiest of the California ports (see Table 9 in the study).

When identifications per inspector shift were examined in the study, the percent of people stopped at the airports by the team was lower than those at the land borders. This was the case largely because the oft-abused Border Crossing Cards were only seen at the land ports. (Mexicans use the BCC, sometimes called the "laser visa," to commute to jobs in the U.S., which is not allowed.)

My sense, looking back over the years, is that while it is clear that more inspectors, with more time to inspect, would find a higher percentage of fraudulent entries, improvement would probably be a bit more modest than the 12-fold increase we found. Our eight career inspectors, all volunteers, all engaged in a special, nationwide study, were probably more motivated than inspectors working routine shifts. I cannot see, however, that they were a dozen times more motivated.

The Malefide Entrants as a Group. This population is a mixed bag. Some were imposters, bearing someone else’s documents. Some had counterfeit or altered documents. Some were in a category that has since disappeared, people making false verbal claims to citizenship. Larger numbers were about to misuse legitimate documents that had been issued to them, usually coming to the U.S. to get jobs (or return to existing jobs) when they had no legal right to work.

Since EWIs are a largely male population, we expected that a majority of the aliens caught at the land ports would be women, and we were right. The percentage was 55 percent. Most of those stopped at the airports were men. In terms of age, at the land ports 52 percent of those identified were between 20 and 35. Fully 40 percent of the interceptions along the southern border came on weekends, with Saturday being more likely than Sunday.

I know this sounds like profiling, but if it had been a Saturday in 1976, at the southern border, and the applicant was a 20-35-year-old woman from Mexico, and carrying a border crossing card, a few extra questions might be warranted.

The Study Design. INS devoted 686 man-days of inspector time to this study, and helped the study operate in ten airports, and in 15 ports along the southern border.

There were two teams of four inspectors each, one for the land, and one for the air. All members of each team, with a couple of minor exceptions, worked at all the ports in their category. At every port they were extra staff, and no pressures were put on them to handle cases quickly.

At each port the inspectors were assigned randomly to different shifts, throughout the week and during the day and the night, and within those shifts were given a random sampling of the incoming traffic. All worked in primary inspection lanes, i.e., where the would-be entrant is first examined. Data on each interception, as to the nature of the offense, and the characteristics of the alien, were recorded on a special form.

At the end of the study – which went on for about 20 weeks – the land port inspectors had worked
373 days, and the airport crew a total of 313 days (I think one of the airport inspectors got sick late in the study.) The eight inspected a total of 243,360 entrants with the majority at the southern border (204,367) and the minority at the airports (38,993). Apparently inspectors along the southern border see more people than their colleagues at the airports, dealing, as they do, with steadier flows of applicants,

The two crews found and stopped 709 fraudulent entrants at the land ports and 185 at the airports.

The Atmosphere at INS. Currently, the Department of Homeland Security seems quite reluctant to share data with the outside world, and what it releases is often incomplete. For instance, there are data on USCIS benefit decisions in which the number of filings and the number of benefit grants are noted, but not the denials.

Similarly, at a conference at Georgetown University last year I heard a couple of recipients of DHS research grants complain that they had enormous difficulty prying numbers out of the department, even though the data applied directly to what DHS was paying them to study.

Compare this to the research setting we encountered at INS in 1976. Our client, as head of the agency’s Office of Planning and Evaluation, was a self-described one-time protégé of the late
Attorney General Eliot Richardson (the one fired by Nixon for not firing Archibald Cox in the Watergate scandals.) The client saw to it that we had access to previously secret weekly intelligence reports on the agency’s encounters with fraudulent entrants and persuaded the Assistant Commissioner for Inspections to give us hundreds of man days of his staff – as well as paying the inspectors’ substantial travel bills.

Lisa Roney, a career INS official, was our day-to-day contact at the agency and helped ease the project over a number of barriers.

The study, as I have just described it, created all sorts of costs for the agency, and showed how badly INS had been doing its job. But the study was conducted and published anyway.

At the time I did not realize how much openness we were experiencing, and how sound that approach to public policy was. I do now, with much retrospective gratitude.

The Report. INS at the time had little experience, maybe none, in the publication of sponsored research reports, and I had no knowledge of agency precedents in this field either. The report was published with no notation of who wrote it, but I did, with the exceptions of General Chapman’s Foreword and the unsigned Preface.

The latter indicates that this is “the first of the seven studies to be completed,” all of which I had designed. New management at the agency decided that instead it was to be the last of the studies.

Read the 1976 study here: http://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/1976-Fraudulent-Entrants-Study.pdf