Wednesday, November 07, 2007

GAO report on border inspectors' laxity

It is shocking that, according to GAO, Customs and Border Protection inspectors allowed at least 21,000 into the country last year who oughtn't to have been admitted because of immigration law violations or criminality. The concern, of course, is that if these miscreants can scam the system, so can terrorists, especially terrorists as wily as Al Qaeda.

This gaping hole in our nation's security is easy to explain. There are too few inspectors. The relative few we have aren't adequately trained. (And, needless to say, these two problems are related. If you have too few inspectors to begin with, you can't spare any of the few you have for training.) Supervisors don't hold inspectors to account, and supervisors aren't held to account for not holding inspectors to account. Morale is low throughout the Department of Homeland Security, and CBP is no exception. Then, there's the creeping complacency that comes from the absence of follow-on attacks since 9/11. And, to be fair to the inspectors, part of the problem is the huge number (about 8,000) of forms of identification that those who try to cross the border through legal points of entry can present. This is why Secretary Chertoff is right to push back hard against those in Congress - Republicans and Democrats alike - who balk at the planned implementation this coming January of the requirement for land border crossers (including Americans) to present passports. Finally, paradoxically, the consequence of the Administration's commendable doubling of Border Patrol agents and additional efforts to stem the flow of illegal immigration is encouraging people to try to sneak in through legal ports of entry.

Perhaps the most shocking thing is DHS' defense of itself. The New York Times account had DHS pointing out that its current regulations allow inspectors to waive people into the country without looking at any documents at all if the travelers can somehow otherwise convince the inspector that they are Americans. DHS should be ashamed of such a regulation, and it should get rid of it post-haste, rather than using it as a justification for behavior that threatens the nation's security. Heaven help us.

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