IG: Human traffickers exploit data gaps at DHS
Ineffective data gathering and sharing between ICE and USCIS aid human traffickers, an IG report says.
Creaky automated database work and mismatched data between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have allowed human traffickers to bring victims into the U.S., according to an audit released Jan. 11 by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.
The OIG matched ICE and USCIS data from 2005 to 2014 and found that 17 of 32 known human traffickers used work and fiance visas to bring victims into the U.S. Additionally, the OIG said 274 people who were under investigation for human trafficking were able to bring 425 family members into the country because of gaps in visa data systems, and auditors could not determine from the available data whether those cases involved human trafficking.
The OIG concluded that the two agencies' lack of data sharing and automated enforcement and inspection systems make it difficult to parse background data and case histories in complicated investigations.
For instance, ICE was unable to consistently extract data from TECS, the system managed by CBP to screen people arriving in the U.S. In response to the OIG's request for information on active and completed human trafficking investigations, ICE officials made four separate attempts to extract the data over the course of a year but were unable to supply all the necessary information.
Furthermore, USCIS did not consistently enter names and other identifying information for human traffickers into its systems even though that information was provided on visa applications for their victims.
"These failures demand a thorough review of the U.S. visa system," said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in a statement. "We must find out how federal agencies are communicating with one another to ensure that dangerous individuals are not able to exploit these programs."
The OIG recommended that the two agencies collaborate on a procedure to transfer USCIS' data on traffickers to ICE. Furthermore, USCIS should capture data on traffickers gathered during the visa application process, and make names and other identifying information on alleged human traffickers available on both agencies' systems.
"Without concerted DHS efforts to collect and share information, the risk exists that some human traffickers may remain unidentified and free to abuse other individuals," the report states.