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Patrolling Which Borders?

A core mission of the INS is to maintain "control of U.S. borders" --all of its borders. But because of long-standing political, economic and social pressures, the INS has for decades concentrated most of its Border Patrol agents along the border with Mexico.

The result: while the border to the south currently is defended by one agent for every 1,000 feet, along the border with Canada there is only one agent for every sixteen miles. (See map.)
Earlier considerations may well have justified this stark disparity in resources. But the development of a world-wide terrorism threat -- symbolized by 9/11 -- suggest that the Bush planners may have to consider the wrenching and costly relocation of thousands of Border Patrol agents.

So far, such consideration appears to have largely focused on the future. A White House "fact sheet" on the administration's action plan for "creating a secure and smart border", for example, talks about steps to achieve this vision that will only begin in the months after October 1, in FY 2003. Starting at that time, another document said, the INS would move to "advance strategic control of the Northern border while continuing to expand control of the Southwestern border."

Curiously, however, during the months since September 11, 2001, the record does not suggest that the Administration has so far moved to accomplish this important aspect of its overall border plan. In September of 2001, for example, there were 331 Border Patrol agents posted on the Canadian border. By March 2002, there were 346, an increase of only 15. On the Mexican border, the number of agents went from 9061 to 9094, an increase of 33. (See table.)

Another example of this seemingly lackadaisical approach concerns recruiting. Although the INS currently has several thousand openings for new employees, web sites maintained by the INS and Office of Personnel Management say that the Border Patrol is only recruiting new agents along the border with Mexico, none along the Canadian border (see recruitment notice and INS fact sheet).

In the coming fiscal year, President Bush's budget proposal does recommend the hiring of 570 additional Border Patrol agents -- a 5 percent increase over existing authorized positions. But the plan calls for them to split between the north and south on a fifty-fifty basis. (See budget.) Assuming this proposal is approved by Congress, the result would be one new agent for every 19.4 miles of the northern border and one for each 7.0 miles of the Mexican border. Thus, the vast staffing disparities that existing today would remain essentially unchanged.

The stark contrast in the allocation of the nation's front line border troops is the product of many decades of overlapping and sometimes conflicting worries. There is America's on-again and off-again resistance to all foreigners. There is labor's concern that immigrants legal and illegal will take away jobs from U.S. citizens. There is the intense war against drugs.

But it is also a reflection of the fact that only very little change has been made in the deployment of current INS border agents since 9/11. Here are the hard numbers, according to the Office of Personnel Management:

As of March 2002, the INS had assigned almost all of the Border Patrol -- 9,094 agents -- along the border with Mexico, which the administration's statement on the Department of Homeland Security said was 1,989 miles long. To the north, 346 agents were stretched out along the border with Canada which the June statement said measured 5,525 miles. In the previous September, the comparable figures were 9,061 agents in the south, and 331 along the north. (See table and map.)
Trends in INS Criminal Referrals for Prosecution

        Post 9/11: While there was some decline after 9/1l, Immigration and Naturalization Service recommendations for criminal prosecution have returned to their recent monthly highs, according to new data from the Justice Department.

In the spring and early summer of 2001, Justice Department records show the INS was making between 1,500 to 1,700 such referrals each month. Following the attacks, the referrals dropped to 1,070 in November and 1,074 in December. In March of 2002, however, the monthly count was 1,775. (See graph.)

        Long term trends: Looked at from a longer perspective, however, the number of INS referrals in fiscal year 2001 was substantially higher than what it was a decade and a half before --jumping to 17, 933 in FY 2001 from 11,551 in 1986. an increase of 55 per cent. (See graph and table.)

Given the rapid growth in the size of the INS, the increase in its criminal referrals is not surprising. In FY 2001, the INS had a total of 31,971 full-time employees. This is nearly three times more than the 11,371 INS employees in 1986. (See graph and table.)

INS Outranks FBI in Federal Criminal Convictions

Along with more INS referrals, the Justice Department has credited the INS with more and more prosecutions and convictions:

One result -- according to several measures, the INS has now become the most active of all federal agencies, out ranking the FBI, DEA, Customs, ATF and IRS. (See graph.)
In FY 2001, for example, INS convictions made up 20.5% of all such verdicts reached in federal courts. This compared with 19.3% for the FBI, 17.8 for the DEA, 9.7 for the Customs Service, 6.2% for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and 1.6% for the IRS. (See table.)

Other Performance Measures

While the growth in INS prosecutions and convictions was substantial, the increase in the length of resulting prison sentences was much larger.

In FY 1992 and 1993, the median sentence -- half the defendants got more, half got less -- was two months. In FY 2002 and 2001, the median was seven times higher, 15 months. (See graph and table.)
Immigration offenses now rank in the middle in terms of federal prison time -- drugs, weapon offenses rate much higher sentences while white collar and official corruptions convictions receive substantially shorter prison terms.

Reflecting to a large degree the type of offenses INS has jurisdiction over, the agency has also had more success than virtually any other agency in having its referrals successfully prosecuted, and in the speed with which federal prosecutors act on them.

Under custom and law, assistant U.S. attorneys are authorized to prosecute those cases they deem appropriate and to decline to prosecute those cases that for one reason or another they feel do not warrant the bringing of formal criminal charges. In FY 2001, across the whole United States, federal prosecutors declined one out of three of the referrals coming from all federal agencies. For INS, prosecutors brought charges in almost all situations, 97% of the total. This compared with the FBI, where slightly more than half --51% -- were declined. (See graph.)
The government processes INS matters with greater dispatch than those of any of the other major agencies. According to 2001 data from the Justice Department, apparently complex referrals from the IRS took the most time to deal. The INS the least. Measured in terms of the days that past from an agency referral to final disposition, the median for all IRS matters was 728. This compared with 337 days the FBI, 294 for the DEA, 283 for the ATF, 175 for Customs and 126 for the INS. (See graph.)
Report Date: July 29, 2002
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