GAO investigation exposes flaws in border security

Three years after it first tested how effective the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was in screening people entering the United States at land border crossings, the Government Accountability Office retraced its steps and found security there is still full of holes.

Using fake identification documents created with commercial software, GAO agents found it was just as easy today to pass through border crossings. Sometimes CBP agents didn’t even look at the documents.

GAO has run periodic tests in the past few years that show CBP officers are unable to effectively identify fake documents, said Gregory Kurtz, managing director of GAO’s forensic audits and special investigations, before a Senate Committee on Finance panel Wednesday.

U.S. citizens currently don’t need to show their passports to enter the United States from Western Hemisphere countries. They can use birth certificates, baptismal records and a driver’s license or other photo identification instead.

Border crossings in California, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, New York, Idaho and Washington were chosen as the targets of the GAO investigation and none of the fake documents were challenged at any of those sites. In most cases, border officers only requested driver’s licenses as a document of identification.

In one instance, a GAO agent offered to show a border officer his driver’s license but was waved through without the officer inspecting it.

If a new initiative requiring all travelers to use passports and other acceptable documents to enter the United States is to succeed then the vulnerabilities exposed by the GAO investigation need to be addressed, Kurtz said.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require all travelers, including U.S. citizens, to use passports or some other secure form of identification that the Secretary of Homeland Security deems suitable to enter or re-enter the United States.

The new regulations were expected go into effect beginning Dec. 31, 2007, but the Senate recently passed a bill that would extend the deadline to June 1, 2009.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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