INS system loses track of aliens

Justice IG report on the INS Automated I-94 System

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has spent more than $31 million and nearly seven years building a computer-based system to keep track of legal aliens, but the system fails to detect about 2 million aliens a year who overstay their visas.

A Justice Department investigation revealed that despite the investment of money and time, INS' Automated I-94 System has been installed at only four airports and monitors the arrivals and departures of foreign passengers on just two airlines traveling to and from seven cities overseas.

INS officials say they need another $57 million and three more years to make the system work, according to a Justice inspector general's report in August. The system is named after the I-94 forms that foreign visitors must fill out before entering the United States.

The organization American Lawyers for Immigration Law Enforcement described the system's performance as "garbage in, garbage out."

"A well-operating system would enable the INS to control the borders more effectively," organization leaders said in a message to Congress earlier this year. But the I-94 system "is very flawed to say the least."

According to INS, the system is in operation at airports in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., where it inspects passengers on U.S. Airways and TWA Airlines flights arriving from Munich, Frankfurt, London, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome and Paris.

The system uses cards similar to boarding passes that have personal information and other data, such as arrival and departure dates, stored in magnetic strips. Airlines use the same technology for machine-readable boarding passes.

According to the lawyers group, however, information on the I-94 cards is often unreadable, inaccurate or incomplete. Accurate, readable information on the cards could be useful for keeping undesirable aliens out of the United States, according to the organization.

The Justice IG's report notes that work on the I-94 system began in 1995, but "we found that the INS has not properly managed the project."

INS did not set "measurable goals, collect baseline information" or "complete a cost/benefit analysis," according to the report. "As a result, despite having spent $31.2 million," INS "does not have clear evidence that the system meets its intended goals."

Officials from INS, which is a division of Justice, declined to comment on the report.

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