IG finds problems persist with border, immigration units

Despite some improvement in coordinating their activities, two Homeland Security Department agencies responsible for enforcing customs and immigration laws still face significant problems with information sharing and limited resources -- sometimes leading to sloppy investigations, government inspectors conclude in a report released Friday.

The Homeland Security Department's inspector general assessed current relations between Customs and Border Protection, which enforces laws along the border, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which enforces laws inside the country.

The continuing problems cited in the report could give fresh ammunition to lawmakers who, in the past, have called for the agencies to be merged.

"At times, CBP and ICE would find that both were investigating the same targets, but neither would know of this beforehand," the IG wrote. "For example, CBP officials in Miami, Florida, said they occasionally interdict boats used to smuggle aliens or narcotics and discover the boat was being tracked as part of an ICE investigation."

In another example, CBP officials in Chicago executed a sting operation involving fraudulent documents. But CBP did not inform ICE of the operation prior to its start and an unexpected increase of seizures and cases being referred for investigation overwhelmed ICE agents, according to the report.

On the positive side, the report concludes that CBP and ICE have made progress in meeting recommendations previously made by the IG to improve relations. In response to the report, ICE and CBP officials agreed that better coordination is needed but also cited many efforts they have taken and plan to take.

"In regular meetings, joint planning and real-time coordination, CBP and ICE are working together to achieve a high level of operational information sharing to ensure optimum mission achievement," the officials said. "In fact, over the last year, CBP and ICE have initiated new information sharing efforts, including revised protocols for terrorist-related threats and warnings, daily incident and threat information and analysis, a joint strategy for utilization of biometrics, the pursuit of joint training opportunities, coordinated intelligence-driven special operations, [joint task force] program alignment and international notification protocols."

But in other areas, ICE officials said it is not unusual for agents to learn about a narcotics seizure at the border from the Drug Enforcement Administration rather than from the Border Patrol, which is part of CBP. And CBP officials cited many examples of ICE not informing them of investigative operations within their area of responsibility.

A CBP official said these unknown investigative operations create a concern for officer safety, especially in remote areas, the IG reported.

"Border Patrol agents said that ICE does not routinely share actionable intelligence [and] ICE then says that contraband seized by Border Patrol often is related to a pending ICE investigation," the IG report said. "In addition, ICE agents said that when information on pending investigations is provided to Border Patrol, Border Patrol uses it to interdict incoming contraband or smugglers, which disrupts the ICE investigation."

The Border Patrol and ICE also continue to have difficulty sharing resources, especially limited tactical aircraft. "For example, because many air assets have been temporarily assigned to Arizona ... other sectors, such as Laredo, Texas, do not have the air resources to support operations within their sector," the IG said.

Sometimes, ICE operations do not receive needed tactical air support because of a bureaucratic approval process inside the Border Patrol, the IG added.

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