Nearly 4,000 illegal immigrants apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol at the southwest border over a three-year period were allowed to return to their home countries despite having past criminal convictions and connections to criminal networks.
The statistic is included in a new government audit exposing shortcomings in the way Border Patrol agents deal with illegal immigrants caught trying to cross the border into the United States.
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Border Patrol agents use the Consequence Delivery System, or CDS, to classify apprehended aliens using seven criminal and noncriminal categories. They then decide which of eight consequences the apprehended aliens should receive, based on how effective the consequences are in preventing the individuals from trying again to illegally enter the United States. The CDS system plays a major role in the Department of Homeland Security's efforts to combat transnational criminal organizations and drug smuggling across the U.S. border.
However, Border Patrol agents incorrectly classified roughly 15,000 criminal alien apprehensions between fiscal years 2013-15, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued this month. Twenty-four percent of these aliens, or 3,717, were allowed to voluntarily return to their countries of origin. Voluntary return is rated as the least effective and efficient of the consequences. More severe consequences include criminal prosecution.
"Our analysis showed that criminal aliens not classified in accordance with agency guidance were less likely to face prosecution and more likely to be voluntarily returned to their home country than criminal aliens overall," the GAO investigation concluded.
Border Patrol agents were less likely in 2015 to choose the most effective and efficient consequences in cases of apprehended aliens. Agents' use of these consequences declined from 28 percent in fiscal 2013 to 18 percent in 2015; data from fiscal 2016 was not available to auditors.
"Border Patrol has not assessed reasons for the relatively low application of consequences determined to be the Most Effective and Efficient consequence in each sector; but some agency officials stated that challenges include agents' hesitation to apply consequences that require referral to federal partners facing capacity constraints, such as Department of Justice immigration courts," the GAO wrote.
Auditors found that Border Patrol significantly underestimated the recidivism rate for apprehended aliens, which the department uses to measure the performance of the CDS process. According to GAO's analysis, 29 percent of past offenders were apprehended again in fiscal 2015, compared with the 14 percent recidivism rate reported by Border Patrol for the same time period.
Auditors recommended that Border Patrol more accurately measure recidivism, collect testimony on why agents don't apply consequences rated most effective and efficient, and boost oversight of the CDS process.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, told the Washington Free Beacon that he plans to follow up with the department on its implementation of GAO's recommendations.
"The CBP needs to better measure the effectiveness of the consequences it provides to aliens who cross the border illegally to prevent recidivism," McCaul said on Monday. "This report provides several recommendations to that end, and I will be following up with CBP to ensure it implements those recommendations."
The audit was issued days after retired Marine Gen. John Kelly, President-elect Donald Trump's choice to oversee immigration and the border as secretary of homeland security, appeared before the Senate for his confirmation hearing.
Kelly, a former commander of the U.S. Southern Command, underscored the need to staunch the flow of drugs and people across the southern border with a "layered defense" that includes human patrols, sensors, and cooperation with neighboring countries like Mexico. Kelly said that a "physical barrier" like a border wall, the cornerstone of Trump's campaign rhetoric on immigration, would not be enough on its own to secure the border.
Border Patrol agents caught more than 1.1 million aliens along the southwest border over the three-year period covered by the audit. They apprehended roughly 300,000 in fiscal 2015 alone.