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Broken Immigration

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Illegal Aliens Bypass U.S. Border Agents via Indian Reservations: GAO

April 10th 2013

US/Mex Border fence

Foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States illegally have been known to avoid Border Patrol screening procedures by surreptitiously crossing into areas between these ports of entry, including Indian reservations, many of which have been vulnerable to illicit cross-border threat activity, such as drug smuggling, according to the Department of Homeland Security officials in a report released on Friday. The Government Accountability Office was requested by U.S. lawmakers to investigate DHS's efforts to coordinate border security activities on Indian reservations. In complying with Congress' request, GAO researchers examined DHS's efforts to coordinate with tribal governments to address border security threats and vulnerabilities on Indian reservations. GAO investigators reported that they interviewed DHS officials at headquarters and conducted interviews with eight tribes, selected based on factors such as proximity to the border, and the corresponding DHS field offices that have a role in border security for these Indian reservations. While GAO cannot generalize its results from these interviews to all Indian reservations and field offices along the border, they provide examples of border security coordination issues.

On April 5, the GAO released a public version of what officials termed "a sensitive report" that GAO issued. Information that DHS, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) deemed sensitive was redacted, according to GAO officials. According to the redacted report, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is coordinating in a variety of ways with Indian tribes, "such as through joint operations and shared facilities and Operation Stonegarden --a DHS grant program intended to enhance coordination among local, tribal, territorial, state, and federal law enforcement agencies in securing United States borders. However, the U.S. Border Patrol and the Indian tribes face coordination challenges. For example, officials from five tribes reported information-sharing problems with Border Patrol agents, such as not receiving notification of federal activity on their lands. But in response, Border Patrol officials reported challenges "navigating tribal rules and decisions."

The U.S. Border Patrol and DHS have existing agreements with some, but not all, tribes to address specific border security issues, such as for the establishment of a law enforcement center on tribal lands. These agreements could serve as models for developing additional agreements between the Border Patrol and other tribes on their specific border security coordination challenges, the report suggests.

GAO researchers suggested that written government-to-government agreements could assist Border Patrol and tribal officials with enhancing their coordination, consistent with practices for sustaining effective coordination. DHS established an office to coordinate their Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement tribal outreach efforts, which has taken actions such as monthly teleconferences with DHS tribal liaisons to discuss tribal issues and programs, but does not have a mechanism for monitoring and overseeing outreach efforts, consistent with internal control standards.  GAO officials suggested that such monitoring should be performed continually; ingrained in the agency's operations; and clearly documented in directives, policies, or manuals to help ensure operations are carried out as intended. Implementing an oversight mechanism could help enhance DHS's department-wide awareness of and accountability for border security coordination efforts with the tribes while identifying those areas that work well and any needing improvement, the report to Congress recommended.

The author, Jim Kouri, CPP, is the fifth Vice President and Public Information Officer of the National Association of Chiefs of Police, has served on the National Drug Task Force, and has trained police and security officers throughout the country.

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