I. Chapter One: Introduction

A. Background

On December 16, 1998, an intruder entered the home of Dr. Claudia Benton in West University Place, Texas, sexually assaulted her, and beat her to death in her bedroom. Through fingerprints obtained at the crime scene, the local police quickly identified the assailant as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez.1 Resendez is a Mexican citizen who has a long history of entering the United States illegally, committing crimes here, and being voluntarily returned or deported to Mexico.

On January 5, 1999, the police obtained a warrant for Resendez’s arrest and placed it in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The police and the Texas Rangers mounted an extensive effort to find and arrest Resendez. The search for Resendez received widespread national attention. He became the subject of media reports in Houston and elsewhere, and was featured on the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Early in their investigation, the police contacted Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) investigators in Houston several times seeking information about Resendez. Houston INS agents gave the police documents from Resendez’s Alien-file (A-File),2 including photographs of him and a set of his fingerprints. The police asked INS employees to assist them by placing a border lookout on Resendez. A Texas Ranger specifically asked an INS investigator in Houston to place an “internal hold” for Resendez in an INS database.

On April 30, 1999, Norman and Karen Sirnic were beaten to death with a sledgehammer in their house in Weimar, Texas. Mrs. Sirnic had been sexually assaulted. Through DNA evidence, Resendez was connected to these murders. He was also connected to another murder that had occurred on August 29, 1997, in Lexington, Kentucky, when Christopher Maier had been beaten to death while walking with a female companion who was raped but survived the attack.

Resendez became known as “the railway killer” because he was believed to travel around the United States by freight railroad and commit his crimes near railroad lines. On May 27, 1999, the FBI obtained a federal warrant for his arrest. In June 1999, the FBI formed a multi-agency task force to apprehend Resendez. Allegedly, Resendez murdered four more people in June 1999: Josephine Konvicka on June 3, 1999, in Fayette County, Texas; Noemi Dominguez on June 3, 1999, in Houston, Texas; and George Morber and his daughter, Carolyn Fredrick, on June 15, 1999, in Gorham, Illinois. On June 21, 1999, Resendez was placed on the FBI’s list of “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.”

In mid-June 1999, a Border Patrol intelligence officer in Del Rio, Texas, concluded that it was important to enroll Resendez in an INS database, called IDENT, to ensure that Resendez would be detained if he were encountered by the Border Patrol or other INS personnel.3 IDENT is an automated fingerprint identification system, implemented by the INS in 1994, that allows INS employees to identify individuals through electronic digital comparisons of fingerprints. IDENT has two parts: 1) a “lookout” database that contains records on approximately 400,000 aliens who have been previously deported by the INS or who have a significant criminal history; and 2) a “recidivist” database that contains fingerprints and photographs on over one million illegal aliens who have been apprehended by the INS since IDENT was first deployed.

When the Del Rio intelligence officer reviewed Resendez’s IDENT history in June 1999, he realized that Resendez had been apprehended by the Border Patrol in Texas and New Mexico eight times within 18 months and had been “voluntarily returned” to Mexico each time.4 Most surprisingly, IDENT revealed that on June 1, 1999 – while there were state and federal warrants outstanding for Resendez and intensive efforts were under way to arrest him – Border Patrol agents in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, had apprehended Resendez illegally crossing the border and voluntarily returned him to Mexico, unaware that he was wanted by law enforcement authorities.

The news that the Border Patrol had apprehended and released Resendez created a firestorm of controversy and criticism, particularly in light of the murders he allegedly committed after his release. Serious questions were raised in the media as to why the Border Patrol had voluntarily returned Resendez to Mexico, despite the warrants for his arrest and his significant criminal record in the United States. Questions were also raised about the actions of the INS employees who had been contacted by the police about Resendez but had not placed a lookout for him in IDENT. On a broader level, the operation and usefulness of IDENT was questioned. For example, news articles questioned why Resendez was voluntarily returned to Mexico when he was identified in IDENT and whether IDENT was a flawed system “that doesn’t work.” Members of Congress also expressed outrage about these events.

On June 30, 1999, Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner asked our office, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG), to review the actions of the INS in connection with the Resendez case.

On July 13, 1999, Resendez crossed the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, at the Ysleta port of entry near El Paso, Texas, and surrendered to U.S. and Texas law enforcement officials, ending the nationwide hunt for him. He is currently in custody awaiting trial, first for the murder of Dr. Benton.

B. The OIG Investigation

The OIG review of the Resendez case began on July 1, 1999. The OIG team included two attorneys, two inspectors, and several investigators who assisted in interviews of witnesses. This investigation was not the first time the OIG had reviewed the operation of IDENT. In 1997, the OIG had performed an inspection of IDENT. The OIG Inspection report, issued in March 1998, described various problems we found with IDENT’s implementation and made recommendations to address these problems. 5

Our investigation of the Resendez case focused on four areas. First, we focused on the actions of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended Resendez, processed him in IDENT, and voluntarily returned him to Mexico. We examined the seven times they apprehended Resendez in 1998 and, most important, their June 1, 1999, apprehension and voluntary return of Resendez to Mexico. Although most of the Border Patrol agents who apprehended and processed Resendez did not remember him, they described for us their standard practices in processing apprehended aliens in IDENT. In addition, we reviewed INS’s written procedures relating to IDENT. We also interviewed many of the supervisors of these Border Patrol agents to understand the Border Patrol’s standard practices and procedures.

Second, we focused on the actions of the INS employees who were contacted by the law enforcement officers who were seeking to apprehend Resendez. We interviewed the INS agents who were contacted and many of their supervisors. We interviewed local police, FBI agents, and the Texas Ranger involved in searching for Resendez and who had contacted INS agents in Houston about Resendez. We also interviewed the INS intelligence officers in the INS’s Central Region and Houston INS District Office who received notification about the search for Resendez.

Third, our review examined more broadly the operation of IDENT to understand how the deficiencies in the INS’s handling of the Resendez matter occurred. For example, our review examined the design and implementation of IDENT. We examined the INS policies on when lookouts should be entered in IDENT. We analyzed how those policies were distributed throughout the INS and whether the INS employees involved in the Resendez case knew or should have known about them. Because we found a disturbing lack of knowledge among INS employees about IDENT and its procedures, we also examined the IDENT training provided to INS employees.

Fourth, our review examined the failure of IDENT to be linked to other INS and criminal databases. At the end of the report, we discuss the previous efforts by the INS and the FBI to integrate their separate automated fingerprint identification systems, as well as the current plans to accomplish such integration.

All told, we interviewed more than 130 individuals, many of them more than once. We also reviewed thousands of pages of documents from the INS and other law enforcement agencies involved in this case. These documents included Resendez’s A-file; his records in IDENT and other INS and criminal databases; INS written policies and procedures regarding IDENT; INS records relating to the design and implementation of IDENT; INS records concerning IDENT training; and statistical information regarding IDENT usage and prosecutions of aliens for immigration-related offenses.

We received good cooperation from most people we sought to interview. For example, employees of the Houston police, Texas Rangers, FBI, United States Customs Service, and members of the local fugitive task force cooperated fully with us and provided important information and documents about the Resendez case. Similarly, Border Patrol employees cooperated with our review, as did many employees from the INS Investigations Division, Intelligence Division, and other INS offices.6

Obtaining information from the INS’s Office of Information Resource Management (OIRM) was more difficult. OIRM is responsible for supporting INS operating components through the development and maintenance of automated information systems, including IDENT. We encountered significant problems getting timely responses to our requests for information from OIRM. It failed to locate important information about IDENT that we requested, such as where IDENT terminals were installed in certain INS offices. Our requests to OIRM for information were often passed from one person to another, without anyone taking responsibility for providing us basic information we needed. Many of OIRM’s eventual responses were incomplete, despite persistent requests from us. While we believe that in the end, after repeated inquiries, we obtained the relevant documents and information that we needed from OIRM about IDENT, we still cannot be certain that some important materials were not provided to us. We also believe that OIRM’s failure to provide documents in a timely and complete fashion was illustrative of some of the significant problems in the implementation and use of IDENT that we describe in the following chapters.

C. Organization of the OIG Report

This report describes the results of our review and is divided into 12 chapters and 5 appendices. To place in context how the INS handled the Resendez case, Chapter II discusses the history of the development of IDENT, how IDENT is used, and how IDENT relates to other INS and law enforcement databases.

Chapter III discusses Resendez’s extensive criminal record and history of encounters with the INS before 1998, as well as the Border Patrol’s seven apprehensions and voluntary returns of Resendez to Mexico in 1998.

Chapter IV explains how Resendez became a suspect in the murder of Dr. Benton and describes the contacts of INS employees by law enforcement officers seeking information about Resendez in 1999. In this chapter, we explain what the INS employees did and did not do in response to those contacts.

Chapter V details the Border Patrol’s apprehension and voluntary return of Resendez to Mexico on June 1, 1999.

Chapter VI discusses how the INS discovered that Resendez had been apprehended by the Border Patrol on June 1 and returned to Mexico, and Resendez’s eventual surrender on July 13, 1999.

Beginning in Chapter VII, we analyze the actions of the INS employees in this case. Chapter VII evaluates the Border Patrol’s actions in this case.

Chapter VIII examines the actions of the INS employees who were contacted by the law enforcement officers seeking to find Resendez in 1999.

Chapter IX examines broader problems with the development and use of IDENT, which partly explain how these failures occurred. In this chapter, we discuss the implementation of IDENT, the training provided on IDENT, the dissemination of IDENT’s lookout policy to INS employees, and the knowledge and use of IDENT in various INS offices involved in the Resendez case.

Chapter X discusses the integration of IDENT with the FBI’s automated fingerprint identification databases. We discuss the history of the INS’s and the FBI’s attempts to integrate their separate fingerprint databases, as well as the current plans to accomplish that.

Chapter XI provides our recommendations arising from this review.

Chapter XII contains our conclusions.

At the end of the report are five appendices. Appendix A contains a glossary of terms and names. Appendix B contains a more detailed description of the history of IDENT. Appendix C provides descriptions of INS and criminal databases that are relevant to this review. Appendix D describes the details of Resendez’s extensive criminal record in the United States. Appendix E contains exhibits such as an INS organizational chart, pictures of typical IDENT screens on a computer, and the INS’s August 1998 memorandum describing the IDENT lookout policy.

II. Chapter Two: Background to IDENT

Each year, the INS apprehends many aliens attempting to enter the United States illegally or who are in the United States illegally. The majority of these apprehensions occur along the border between Mexico and the United States. For example, in fiscal year 1998, the Border Patrol apprehended approximately 1.5 million illegal aliens along the Southwest Border. Most of these aliens (about 98 percent) were voluntarily returned to Mexico quickly, without formal charges or proceedings against them.

Historically, to identify apprehended aliens INS Border Patrol agents had to rely upon the names provided by the aliens. However, illegal aliens may provide false names and use different names during different apprehensions. They often do not carry identification papers, and the papers they do carry may be fraudulent. Many persons have similar names, and spelling errors can result in problems identifying aliens accurately.

One solution to this problem is to use “biometrics” to identify individuals. Biometrics are biological measurements that are unique to each person, such as fingerprints, hand geometry, facial patterns, retinal patterns, or other characteristics. Fingerprints are the most common biometric used by law enforcement agencies for identifying individuals.

In 1989, the INS began to develop an automated fingerprint identification system to quickly identify individuals who were apprehended or came into contact with the INS. This biometric system, now called IDENT, electronically compares the two index fingers of individuals against two separate IDENT databases that the INS created: 1) a “lookout” database that contains fingerprints and photographs of approximately 400,00 aliens who have been previously deported by the INS or who have a significant criminal history; and 2) a “recidivist” database that contains fingerprints and photographs of over a million illegal aliens who have been apprehended by the INS and enrolled in IDENT since it was deployed.

The following sections provide a brief history of the design and development of IDENT, how it operates, and a description of several other INS and criminal databases that are relevant to the issues in this report.

A. History of IDENT

In 1989, Congress provided the initial funding for the INS to develop an automated fingerprint identification system. One of the main purposes of this system is to identify and track aliens who are apprehended trying to enter the United States illegally. The system is also intended to identify certain aliens with criminal records and wanted aliens among the persons who are apprehended.

Congress appropriated $1.3 million in 1989 to permit the INS to undertake a test of an automated fingerprint identification system. Congress stated that the purpose of this system was to address

the so-called ‘revolving door’ phenomenon of illegal entry by aliens. This phenomenon involves repeated attempts by aliens to cross U.S. borders, requiring continual apprehension, removal and repeat apprehension of the same individual by INS officials . . . Emerging technology in the area of automated fingerprint identification systems has the potential for providing empirical data to clearly define the problem of recidivism as well as immediately identify those criminal aliens who should remain in the custody of INS.

Between 1991 and 1994, the INS conducted several studies of automated fingerprint systems, primarily in the San Diego Border Patrol Sector. In September 1994, Congress provided almost $30 million for the INS to deploy a biometric fingerprint identification system. In October 1994, the INS began implementing the system, called IDENT, first in the San Diego Border Patrol Sector and then throughout the Southwest Border. In 1995, the INS created the lookout database in IDENT. By the end of 1995, the IDENT system was installed at 52 INS sites along the Southwest Border.

In the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, Congress specifically directed the INS to expand the use of IDENT “to apply to illegal or criminal aliens apprehended Nationwide.” This Act also directed the INS to

operate a criminal alien identification system . . . to assist Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies in identifying and locating aliens who may be subject to removal by reason of their conviction of aggravated felonies, subject to prosecution . . . [because they were] not lawfully present in the United States, or otherwise removable. Such system shall include providing for recording of fingerprint records of aliens who have been previously arrested and removed into appropriate automated fingerprint identification systems.

The INS responded by specifying IDENT as the system serving this purpose.

The INS continued to install IDENT at Border Patrol stations, at ports of entry, and at some INS District Offices and asylum offices. By June 1999, IDENT was deployed at 408 INS sites.

Throughout the deployment of IDENT, the INS regularly stated that IDENT was intended to aid the work of many INS components in addition to the Border Patrol. For example, the IDENT project plan, dated September 5, 1995, noted that INS enforcement components such as Investigations, Intelligence, and Detention and Deportation each needed to conduct quick lookout checks on individuals, full records checks, or identity checks from various locations. In a memorandum to INS employees dated April 7, 1998, the INS EAC for Field Operations stated that effective use of IDENT was essential to Border Patrol, Investigations, Detention and Deportation, Intelligence, Inspections, and Benefits Adjudication program operations, and that INS’s use of IDENT needed to be timely, comprehensive, and aggressive.

The INS has spent significant funds developing and implementing IDENT. The INS budget staff reported to Congress that approximately $85 million has been spent on all INS biometrics from fiscal year 1995 to July 1999, of which IDENT was the principal one.7

B. Description of How IDENT Works

This section describes in more detail how IDENT works and the process by which Border Patrol agents enroll apprehended aliens in IDENT. IDENT also can be used in a similar fashion by other INS components, such as Investigations, Detention and Deportation, Inspections, and Intelligence.

One of the primary missions of Border Patrol agents is to detect the smuggling and unlawful entry of undocumented aliens into the United States and to apprehend those persons found in the United States in violation of the immigration laws.8 Normally, an alien apprehended by the Border Patrol is transported to the nearest Border Patrol station for “processing,” although the processing sometimes occurs at a roadside checkpoint. When processing occurs at a station, practices vary as to whether the agents must always accompany the aliens they apprehend to the station. For example, when several aliens have been apprehended at the same time, some stations allow the apprehending agents to remain in the field while other agents accompany the aliens to the station and perform the processing. In other Border Patrol stations, however, the apprehending agents must accompany aliens to the station.

Some Border Patrol sectors require the apprehending agent to prepare in the field a form I-213, “Record of Deportable Alien.” In other sectors, the agents complete the I-213 at the station. A completed I-213 should include the name provided by the alien; the date, time, place, and circumstances of the apprehension; the nationality and permanent residence of the alien; the alien’s birth date and country of birth; the alien’s claimed prior immigration record; and information about the alien’s parents and spouse. The I-213 provides the evidentiary basis for any criminal charges that may be brought against the alien. The agent who enrolls the alien in IDENT at the station transfers the relevant information from the I-213 into the IDENT database.9

1. IDENT Processing

The INS’s goal is to enroll virtually all apprehended aliens in IDENT.10 An IDENT workstation consists of a personal computer, a camera, and single-fingerprint scanner (a TouchView Fingerprint Reader). Depicted below is a picture of the IDENT scanner and camera. Appendix E contains pictures of a typical IDENT biographical data screen on the computer.

 

TouchView™ II Fingerprint Image Capture Terminal TouchView™ II Fingerprint Image Capture Terminal

Flexcam
 Flexcam

Each agent is assigned an individual password to access IDENT. Each agent is supposed to use this password whenever using IDENT.11 After the agent logs onto IDENT, an initial IDENT screen appears. The agent places the alien’s left index finger on the fingerprint scanner, which is designed to capture an image of this fingerprint suitable for electronic comparison to other fingerprints. The Border Patrol agent then clicks the mouse or presses a key and the fingerprint is electronically captured by IDENT.

If the quality of the fingerprint image is poor, a warning message appears and the agent must rescan the fingerprint. If the fingerprint quality continues to be poor after the agent rescans the fingerprint, another warning message appears. If a third scan is unsuccessful, a message will be displayed providing the agent with an option to either rescan the finger or accept the last fingerprint image. When the fingerprint image is accepted, IDENT automatically advances to another screen that prompts the agent to capture an image of the alien’s right index finger.

After the alien’s two index fingerprints are captured, the IDENT camera automatically turns on. The Border Patrol agent takes the alien’s picture by centering the alien’s face in the photograph window on the computer screen and clicking the mouse.

Next, the agent inputs biographical information about the alien. The agent must enter the alien’s sex, country of birth, country of citizenship, location of apprehension, date and time of apprehension, method of apprehension, name of the apprehending officer, the apprehending station, and the length of time the alien was illegally in the United States. Other information can be entered into the system, such as the name given by the alien, date of birth, address, and any comments by the Border Patrol agent about the alien or the alien’s apprehension.

2. Comparison of the Alien’s Fingerprints to IDENT Databases

a) The IDENT Lookout Database

After the alien’s biographic information is completed, IDENT electronically transmits the two fingerprint images to the IDENT databases maintained at the Justice Data Center in Rockville, Maryland. The alien’s fingerprints are first compared against fingerprints in the IDENT lookout database. As of the end of 1999, IDENT’s lookout database contained the fingerprints of approximately 400,000 aliens. The INS created this lookout database on a “day-forward” basis – that is, the INS did not systematically input the fingerprints of all criminal aliens or previously deported aliens with whom the INS had contact before IDENT’s lookout database was created in 1995. According to Tim Biggs, the Chief of the INS’s Biometric Information Systems Section, the INS made this decision because finding and placing fingerprints of previously deported aliens or criminal aliens into the lookout database would have cost too much. He estimated it would have cost $12 to $14 million dollars for the INS to input previous fingerprint cards into the lookout database.

As an exception to the day-forward decision, the INS placed in the lookout database fingerprint cards from so-called “bad boy” files kept in the Border Patrol sectors. These informal files contained records of some aliens that the sectors suspected of being involved in offenses such as the smuggling of aliens, drugs, or contraband. As IDENT was implemented in Border Patrol sectors, they provided their own “bad boy” files – approximately 100 to 200 aliens per sector – for inclusion in the lookout database. Each sector had its own criteria for its “bad boy” files, and there were no consistent standards within the INS on who should be included in these records.

As another exception to the day-forward decision, the INS placed certain aliens’ fingerprint records from WIN (the Western Identification Network) in IDENT’s lookout database when it was created. WIN is an automated fingerprint database system, created in 1989, that consists of fingerprint cards of persons arrested submitted by seven states (Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Alaska) and cards of certain aliens submitted by the INS. Before 1995, the San Diego Border Patrol Sector was the main INS contributor of fingerprint cards to WIN. There were no specific criteria on which aliens’ cards should be submitted to WIN. The INS fingerprint cards in WIN were placed in IDENT’s lookout database in 1995.

When IDENT was deployed, the INS did not establish clear policies on who should be entered into the lookout database. In August 1998, in response to the OIG Inspection report on IDENT, the INS developed and distributed such a policy. In short, the policy requires that aliens must be entered into the lookout database if they are convicted of an aggravated felony; are known to be, or suspected of, trafficking in any controlled substance; are inadmissible based on crimes of moral turpitude; or are inadmissible on security or related grounds. An INS agent also may enter an alien into the database if the agent determines that the alien committed other serious offenses.12

To enter an alien into the lookout database, the alien’s ten fingerprints along with a photograph must be sent to the INS Biometric Support Center (BSC). The fingerprints can be sent either by mail on hard-copy fingerprint cards or electronically by IDENTIX machines that can scan ten fingerprints of individuals and transmit them to a remote location.13 (Depicted below is a picture of the IDENTIX machine.) The BSC is responsible for reviewing the fingerprint cards and the information accompanying them, and entering appropriate ones along with the photograph of the alien into the IDENT lookout database.

 

TouchPrint™ 600 Live-Scan System
TouchPrint™ 600 Live-Scan System

 

b) The IDENT Recidivist Database

The second IDENT database against which an apprehended alien’s fingerprints are compared is the recidivist database. This database contains about four million records of apprehensions of aliens who have been enrolled in IDENT since it was deployed. Each time an alien is apprehended and processed in IDENT, the alien’s fingerprints, photograph, biographical history, and other information related to that apprehension are added into the recidivist database. As of 1999, approximately 1.8 million different aliens were enrolled in the IDENT recidivist database.

IDENT fingerprint searches of the two databases normally takes approximately two minutes. When IDENT identifies a potential fingerprint match, based upon a high numerical score representing how closely the details of the fingerprints match, the IDENT terminal displays the photographs and fingerprints of the apprehended alien next to the photographs and fingerprints of the possible matches. The agent is supposed to visually compare the fingerprints and photographs and confirm on the computer whether they match. If a match is confirmed, IDENT consolidates the records under a unique fingerprint identification number (FIN) for the alien. When a match to a previous enrollment is not verified or there are no possible matches found, IDENT creates a new FIN for the alien.14

With the current version of the IDENT software, Border Patrol agents also may enter alert messages for aliens in IDENT.15 The alert function was developed to flag records of certain aliens who do not meet the criteria for entry into the IDENT lookout database, but who nonetheless should be closely scrutinized or detained if they are apprehended.16 According to the INS’s lookout and alert policy that was distributed in August 1998, an alert must be entered for aliens with final orders of removal, exclusion, or deportation but who do not qualify under the criteria for a lookout. Border Patrol agents can also enter an alert to highlight certain alien’s records based on safety or other reasons.

To record an alert, a Border Patrol agent clicks on the “Enter Alert Information” button on the IDENT terminal. The agent then chooses the appropriate alert type from a variety of choices presented on the screen. The alert types are divided into four classes: Officer Safety, Smuggler, Removed Aliens, and Other Agency. With the entry of the alert, the agent should include a point of contact, the period for which the alert is valid (30 days to one year), and any other pertinent information.

3. Other Databases

Because of resource limitations, including detention space and prosecutorial resources, the Border Patrol does not seek to prosecute all apprehended aliens. Border Patrol sectors or stations, in conjunction with the local United States Attorney’s Office (USAO), have set a “threshold” number of apprehensions for illegal entry that will be required before the alien is prosecuted for entry without inspection (8 U.S.C. 1325).17 Generally, until that threshold is reached, the alien will be voluntarily returned across the border without further inquiries of other INS or criminal databases.

One exception to this general rule occurs when there are aggravating factors in the apprehension. Such aggravating factors include persistent false statements by the alien to the agent regarding the alien’s identity and history; combativeness with or flight from the agent at the time of arrest; indications that the alien had been previously incarcerated (such as certain types of tattoos); or indications that the alien appears to be involved in alien or narcotics smuggling but there is insufficient evidence to sustain such a charge. These factors may cause the Border Patrol agent to seek to detain and prosecute the alien for entry without inspection.

These factors may also cause the Border Patrol agent to request a records check of other INS and criminal databases on the alien. Because of the number of aliens processed each day, these extensive database queries are requested for only a small fraction of the approximately 1.5 million aliens apprehended along the Southwest Border annually. To request a records check of other INS and criminal databases, the agent normally must call the Border Patrol sector’s communications office, commonly known as the “radio room.” Each Border Patrol sector has one or more radio rooms, staffed by Border Patrol employees called Law Enforcement Communications Assistants (LECA).

Upon request, the LECA will check INS and criminal databases for information about the alien’s criminal and INS background, including whether the alien is presently wanted for any crimes. Unlike IDENT, these are text-based as opposed to biometric systems. The primary information the LECA uses to search the databases is the alien’s name and date of birth. The radio room generally responds to a request for database checks within ten minutes. The LECA provides the agent with a brief synopsis of the findings of the database checks. If the agent intends to refer the alien for prosecution, the LECA sends the full database printouts to the agent via facsimile.18

The computer terminals in radio rooms are linked to several INS and criminal databases. One INS database is the Central Index System (CIS). This database includes approximately 45 million records on individuals who have come into contact with the INS and have been assigned an Alien number. CIS is a centralized system that identifies the location of the alien’s A-file and biographical and status information about the individual, such as name, date of birth, Alien number, country of birth and citizenship, various file control data, and dates of INS actions. CIS also points to other INS databases that contain additional information on the individual, such as records of deportations.

Another INS database that can be queried is the National Automated Immigration Lookout System II (NAILS), which contains lookouts for aliens who should not be permitted to enter the United States. NAILS is most commonly used by INS inspectors at land, sea, and air ports of entry to check travelers who are seeking to enter the United States.

The Deportable Alien Control System (DACS) is another INS centralized database that can be checked by LECAs. This database is used mainly by INS Detention and Deportation personnel to track aliens through the removal process. DACS includes the status or disposition of cases on aliens who have been detained or placed on a docket for deportation or exclusion.

LECAs also have access to databases operated by other law enforcement entities. For example, they can check the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. This FBI database contains criminal history information on millions of individuals. It provides records of arrests, convictions, and identifying information about criminals that have been submitted to NCIC by participating federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. NCIC records are searched by name and at least one other identifier, such as date of birth or FBI number. NCIC contained 17 categories of files, including files for wanted persons and deported felons.

Another database that LECAs can check is the Treasury Enforcement Communication System (TECS), a database run by the United States Customs Service that contains information and lookouts on suspect individuals, businesses, and vehicles. TECS terminals typically are located at ports of entry and are used by Customs Service and INS inspectors to check in-coming travelers, including passengers on in-coming international airline flights.


1 Later, authorities determined that the name on his birth certificate was Angel Leoncio Reyes Recendis. Because he became widely known as Rafael Resendez-Ramirez during this investigation, for simplicity we refer to him as Resendez throughout this report.

2 Since 1955, the INS has maintained records relating to individual aliens in separate case files referred to as “Alien-Files” or "A-Files." The INS creates an A-file whenever it initiates any type of law enforcement action against an alien (such as a removal proceeding) or whenever an alien applies for immigration-related benefits (such as an application for asylum or permanent residency).

3 The full name of IDENT is the “Automated Biometrics Identification System.”

4 “Voluntary return” means the alien voluntarily leaves the United States without a formal order of removal. The alien admits to being illegally present in the United States and waives his right to an appearance before an immigration judge. Typically, the INS returns the alien across the border in less than 24 hours. By contrast, an alien can be formally "removed" from the United States either after an expedited removal process conducted by the INS or after removal proceedings before an immigration judge. Before 1997, the "removal" of aliens who were adjudicated to be in the United States illegally was known as "deportation."

5 In Chapter IX of this report, we describe the findings of the 1998 Inspection report in more detail.

6 In Appendix E, we include the last official INS organizational chart from 1998, which shows four INS divisions. According to the chart, each of the four divisions was headed by an Executive Associate Commissioner (EAC) at INS Headquarters reporting directly to the INS Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner. The EAC for Management had responsibility for administrative units, including the Office of Information Resources Management (OIRM). The EAC for Programs had responsibility for, among other entities, the Investigations, Detention and Deportation (D&D), Inspections, and Intelligence units. The EAC for Field Operations had responsibility for the Offices of the Regional Directors, the District Offices, and the Border Patrol. The EAC for Policy and Planning had responsibility for INS strategic planning and research and evaluation. However, the INS informed us that since early 1998 the INS has operated with only three divisions. The EAC for Policy and Planning took over the responsibilities of the EAC for Programs that are shown on the organizational chart.

7 The INS reported the money spent as follows:
FY 95 $15.6 million
FY 96 $12.2 million
FY 97 $14.6 million
FY 98 $22.5 million
FY 99 $19.6 million     TOTAL     $84.5 million

8 One duty of Border Patrol agents is “linewatch,” which involves detecting and apprehending illegal aliens and smugglers of aliens at or near the border by conducting surveillance from covert positions; by following up leads that may include footprints and other physical evidence; or by responding to electronic sensor alarms, aircraft sightings, or infrared scopes and low-light television systems during night operations. Other significant duties of Border Patrol agents include farm and ranch checks; traffic checks; traffic observation; city patrol; transportation checks; train checks; and administrative, intelligence, or anti-smuggling activities.

9 The I-213 is handled differently in stations that use ENFORCE (the Enforcement Case Tracking System). In these stations, the I-213 may be completed on ENFORCE and printed out. ENFORCE is an INS information management system, which the INS began deploying in 1996. It automates the paperwork associated with the identification, apprehension, and deportation of illegal aliens. It is intended to reduce the amount of time agents spend on manual administrative work and provide timely information about illegal alien activity for analysis. It was deployed first in the El Paso Border Patrol Sector, then in other Border Patrol sectors and District Offices along the Southwest Border. The INS is still in the process of deploying it throughout the INS. IDENT is intended to be a part of ENFORCE rather than a stand-alone system.

10 Not all apprehended aliens are enrolled in IDENT. According to INS policy, aliens 14 years old or younger should not be enrolled in IDENT. Also, when the IDENT computer terminals are not working for an extended period of time, or when aliens must be processed quickly to be transported to the border, some apprehended aliens are not enrolled in IDENT.

11 Many Border Patrol agents told us that often agents do not log off IDENT when they are done. Therefore other agents may use IDENT without having to sign on with their own passwords. As a result, IDENT may not accurately reflect which agent enrolled a particular alien.

12 In Chapter VIII, we describe this OIG Inspection report and the INS’s lookout policy in more detail.

13 Rather than inking an individual’s fingers and rolling them onto a paper form, an agent captures the individual’s fingerprints by placing them on the IDENTIX machine. The IDENTIX machine can print out the fingerprint images onto a ten-print card or electronically transmit them to another location. One of the main purposes of the IDENTIX machine is to capture and transmit fingerprints to the BSC for inclusion in IDENT’s lookout database.

14 IDENT may fail to match the fingerprints of the same person because of the poor quality of the fingerprints. This can be caused, for example, by dirt on the alien’s fingers, dirt on the glass of the IDENT scanner, the agent not pressing the finger hard enough on the glass, or the agent pressing a different part of the alien’s finger on the glass than in the earlier image.

15 The latest version of IDENT, version 3.0, contains the alert capability. The previous versions did not. Version 3.0 was sent to the field on the INS’s Intranet site in April 1999. As a result of technical difficulties downloading this version, many INS sites were later sent the IDENT upgrade on compact disks.

16 In Chapter VIII, we describe the criteria for entering alerts in IDENT.

17 Section 1325 is titled “Improper Entry by Alien.” However, the charge is commonly known within the Border Patrol as “entry without inspection” or “EWI.”

18 A supervisory LECA in the El Paso Sector told us that many aliens lie to Border Patrol agents about their name and birthdate to avoid detection of past apprehensions or criminal acts. For example, aliens frequently provide a true name and false birthdate, or a true birthdate but false name. The supervisory LECA said that when an alien appears to be deceptive or to have a motivation to lie, the radio room can conduct more extensive database checks to try to ascertain the alien’s true identity. The LECA said that if the usual search using both the given name and birthdate is unsuccessful, an experienced LECA will conduct separate searches focusing first on the given name, regardless of birthdate, and then the given birthdate, regardless of name. He acknowledged, however, that it is mainly the responsibility of the agent in the field to obtain true information from the alien.

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