An inspector general's report found that CBP officials at one airport released 383 individuals deemed inadmissible to enter the country over two years due to lack of adequate staff and resources.

An inspector general's report found that CBP officials at one airport released 383 individuals deemed inadmissible to enter the country over two years due to lack of adequate staff and resources. CHANDAN KHANNA / Getty Images

Staffing, funding shortages forced DHS to release hundreds of ‘inadmissible’ international travelers

In many cases, those travelers never faced efforts to subsequently remove them from the country.

The Homeland Security Department in recent years allowed hundreds of travelers at one airport it had deemed as inadmissible into the country, a new report has found, and in dozens of cases never followed up to subsequently remove them. 

Such releases occurred in 383 instances at an unnamed airport between fiscal years 2021 and 2023, the DHS inspector general discovered, which the department’s relevant components said was due to staffing and funding shortages. The current process for handling inadmissible travelers is inefficient and wasting resources, the IG found. It is also incomplete, as 44% of those released never returned to the airport for the flights to take them back home and DHS failed to place many of those in deportation proceedings. 

The IG’s report focused on only one airport and its findings represented just a small fraction of the more than 66,000 travelers Customs and Border Protection deemed inadmissible during that two-year period. 

CBP screens all individuals arriving on international flights at airports, at which point the officers can flag the travelers for a secondary review. At that point the agency can issue an inadmissibility ruling for those seeking to enter the country under fraudulent means, misrepresenting themselves or without valid documentation.

Those travelers are then returned to their country of residence on the next available flight. If that cannot occur until a subsequent day, CBP attempts to transfer them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention until their return flight departs. 

At the airport the IG audited, ICE rejected CBP requests for transfer due to staffing concerns and a shortage of detention beds. At that point, CBP had the option to detain the individuals at the airport for up to 72 hours, transfer them to another airport with a sooner flight or release them on parole with instructions to return before their flight. 

Because CBP ceases normal operations at the airport at midnight, however, they could not detain individuals there without paying overtime to their staff. The agency used all of its allocated overtime dollars on cargo and agricultural inspections, so that option became impractical. CBP offices at other airports said they were also too short-staffed to take on the inadmissible travelers, meaning the agency was forced to release them. 

When travelers do not return for their return flights, CBP must create “notices to appear” before an immigration judge to start removal proceedings. Those cases then transfer them to ICE to oversee deportation efforts. CBP failed to do so in more than 70 instances, however, which the IG suggested was also due to staffing shortages. 

All of those issues led the IG to conclude CBP and ICE “did not have an effective process for detaining and removing inadmissible travelers.”

Allowing the travelers to leave the airport creates added burdens on ICE, the IG said, as it must locate a traveler who at that point could be “anywhere in the country.” Once located, the individuals can litigate their case in a process that could take years to play out. ICE must then coordinate with foreign governments on the travelers’ return trips. 

In response to the IG’s recommendations, ICE noted it is working on a memorandum of understanding with CBP so it can accept inadmissible travelers for detention. CBP rejected the IG’s assertion that it has insufficient staff to issue notices that could lead to the removal of inadmissible travelers who fail to show up for their return flights.