Watchdog: Visa oversights poking holes in US border

Watchdog: Visa oversights poking holes in US border
© Getty Images

Bureaucratic problems and technological flaws are poking holes in U.S. border security and have allowed “known human traffickers” to legally enter the country with their victims, a federal watchdog agency testified on Tuesday.

Speaking before a Senate committee, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general listed deep concerns about the government’s efforts to modernize its border controls, highlighting a potential national security risk.

ADVERTISEMENT

Homeland Security officials “accomplish their mission while working in an antiquated system of paper-based files more suited to an office environment of 1950 than 2016,” Inspector General John Roth told the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Combined with poor digital tracking of immigrants’ data and other flaws, the problems make it more difficult to speedily and effectively process people coming into the country, Roth claimed.

“There is also risk to our national security, in that we may be admitting individuals who do not meet the requirements for a visa,” he added.

Roth’s report on Tuesday found “numerous technical problems” with the government’s electronic immigrant system, which will take another three years and $1 billion to update.

Government analysts also found “numerous” instances in which documents were printed with incorrect names or wrong addresses, potentially sending hundreds of green cards to the wrong people.

The concerns expressed are likely to further inflame concerns about security mechanisms within U.S. visa programs. The programs have been under intense scrutiny following terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., late last year that left scores of people dead.

Immediately following those attacks, U.S. officials scrambled to shore up security systems to prevent foreigners intent on causing harm from using legal visa processes to come into the country.

“Are we doing all we can to screen and vet these applicants before they become a threat to the country?” Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonKavanaugh, accuser to testify publicly on Monday Kavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow House panel advances DHS cyber vulnerabilities bills MORE (R-Wis.), the head of the Homeland Security Committee, wondered on Tuesday.

León Rodríguez, the head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that the watchdog’s report did not account for changes implemented since its analysis ended last summer.

“We undertook a number of improvements,” Rodríguez said. “And what I would ask is both that the [inspector general] would come back and also be able to engage with this committee about those improvements so that we can give you the confidence that in fact our automation process is successful and is poised for even greater success in the future.”

Late last year, Congress narrowed a tourist program allowing visitors from 38 countries to visit the U.S. without a visa for up to 90 days. The new changes revoke that visa-free option for people who are dual citizens of or had recently traveled to countries considered hotspots of terrorism. Some congressional Republicans erupted in anger in recent months, however, when the Obama administration appeared to impose a number of unilateral changes limiting the new protocols.