Illegal immigrant data untapped

Border Patrol has not analyzed a database of biometric information that could help stop illegal immigrants

A database of biometric information compiled when illegal immigrants are caught trying to sneak into the United States from Mexico could help stem the flow of illegal immigrants, but the U.S. Border Patrol has never analyzed the data, according to the General Accounting Office.

Since 1995, Border Patrol agents have used an "automated biometric identification system" to collect fingerprints, photos, biographical data and other information about aliens arrested while entering the United States illegally. If analyzed, such data could provide information that would be useful for plotting tactics to combat illegal entry, the GAO said in a report to Congress Aug. 2.

For example, the data could reveal whether those caught entering the country illegally have been caught before; if so, where, when and how often; and whether they are felons or smugglers or have committed other crimes.

Data from the biometric system, called Ident, could give the Border Patrol a better understanding of how tactics they use affect the number of arrests over time and by location, the GAO said.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service—the Border Patrol's parent agency—installed the Ident system along the U.S.-Mexican border for $34 million.

A seven-year crackdown along the border has decreased illegal entries around San Diego and El Paso and McAllen, Texas. But illegal immigrants have merely shifted to other locations.

"INS continues to make record numbers of arrests for illegal entry along the Southwest border," the GAO report stated. More than 1.6 million people were arrested in fiscal 2000.

Overall, the illegal alien population in the United States is vast, but exact numbers are far from certain. Estimates range from 5 million to 11 million.

INS' executive associate commissioner for field operations, Michael Pearson, said in a letter to the GAO that he agrees that Ident data should be analyzed, and he promised that the INS will begin developing "performance indicators" that would use the data to show how well strategies to stop illegal immigrants are working.

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