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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

STATEMENT OF

CONGRESSWOMAN SHEILA JACKSON LEE


HEARING ON

Using Information Technology to Secure America’s Borders:

INS Problems with Planning and Implementation


October 11, 2001

Introduction

         Thank you Mr. Chairman. This oversight hearing on Using Information Technology to Secure America’s Borders: INS Problems with Planning and Implementation is important for two reasons. First, this hearing will help us understand what we can do to prevent events such as September 11th.

         Second, this hearing is so vital because the mission of INS - to provide immigration services to aliens, citizens, and business and to enforce the nation’s immigration laws - is absolutely dependent on information technology.

         With poor information technology we are making our Immigration Inspectors, Border Patrol Officers, and Investigators work too hard. INS’s border security enforcement systems do not work effectively. We need systems that are versatile.

         Instead of hastily appropriating more money to INS whose budget has increased from $1.4 billion in fiscal year 1992 to over $5 billion in fiscal year 2001, we need to pursue other options. It is clear to me from my many dealings with INS that the main fix that is needed is a radical shift in the mentality of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. For years, I have struggled with the Agency who is unable to meet Congressional deadlines. After pouring in massive amounts of revenue Congress has not seen the improvements it desires. However, with better planning, structure, organization, and most importantly management, there is no question that the Agency will be able to meet its goals.

Concerns

         It is unclear how many different types of border security enforcement systems exist. INS has been auditing what systems it has in place since January of 2000. In addition it is unclear what the purpose is of each system and how they operate. I hope Commissioner Ziglar that you will be able to inform us about the different systems that exist and how they operate.

         Furthermore, I would like to highlight some of the concerns I have with the current structure of information technology.

1) A current snapshot of INS’ management and investment of information technology as well as its information security management, show that INS cannot ensure (a) that the money it spends each year on information technology will be able to support the functions of the agency or (b) that its information technology resources are adequately protected from unauthorized access or service disruption.

 

2) There are simply too many different Border Security Enforcement systems to be used or managed effectively. Serious consideration needs to be given to consolidating as many of these systems as possible or creating one system so that all relevant data becomes available.

 

3) One major system, (the IDENT system) which is used to track recidivist aliens along the border between ports of entry has been badly implemented despite an investment exceeding $80 million. DOJ’s Justice Management Division is moving forward with an addition $27 million integration effort. Serious consideration should be given to declaring a moratorium on spending more money on IDENT and instead replacing it with a new system that is truly integrated with all INS and FBI criminal databases.

 

 

         I worked very closely on the Resindez Ramirez case in Houston. This was a failure of INS to adequately track a known criminal. Such a situation cannot happen again. And hopefully this hearing will lead the way in correcting that.

4) Currently some of INS’s systems require biometric cards, some do not. Some cards have bar codes others have laser media. Some systems do not even use biometric data. There should be some discussion as to creating some conforming system so that all the information ca be used for a single type of card-reading technology.

 

Conclusion

         The recent terrorist attacks have seriously impeded legitimate international travel and commerce. At high-volume traffic land border ports of entry on both the Mexican and Canadian borders, efforts to increase border security have resulted in long waits, underscoring that the infrastructure and procedures at the land border ports of entry were not designed to allow inspectors to inspect thoroughly the travel documents of each and every person entering the United States. Just as the reduction in international air travel has reduced commerce and hurt the airline industry, long waits at land border ports of entry will also reduce commerce and hurt multi-national commercial interests in Mexico, Canada, and the United States. This is just another reason why we information technology is so important to INS.

         INS’s duties are completely dependent on information technology. INS must work effectively. Furthermore, I would like to reiterate that while funding for the INS has increased, INS has not become effective in managing information technology.

         The lack of system versatility has a direct impact of those trying to carry out the mission of the Agency. The lack of system versatility compounds the complexity of people trying to do their job at the border and elsewhere.  

         Radical shifts in how INS manages information technology must be made. Furthermore, these issues should not be solved by pouring more money into the agency. What we need is a drastic change in the planning, structure, organization, and personnel not only of the Information Resource Division (the department within INS which handles information technology) but of the Agency itself.


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