Border agents hit back after inspector general criticises $70bn toolkit

March 31 2018

$70 billion high-cost toolkit paid for by taxpayers should be paused until it has undergone oversight to ensure it is being used as it should, says the inspector general.

The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) should stop using a $70bn high-cost toolkit at border checkpoints for migrant families, until the CBP conducts a review to determine whether other screening tools, such as expedited entry procedures, are sufficient, says the inspector general.

Inspector general John Roth’s announcement on Thursday comes amid a furor in Congress over the unit’s use of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program at border crossings around the country, to screen migrant families’ children in the detention centers where they are being held.

The toolkit includes the CBP’s Screening Surge Capacity initiative, aimed at countering the large numbers of people crossing the southwest border illegally, and the Quick ID Check (CIDC) program at Southern Border Field Operations (SBFO), as a combined cost of $70bn.

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According to the inspector general, the CBP continues to use the high-cost toolkit at ports of entry at HIDTA –– 90 of 99 CBP field offices in Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas and Utah –– despite a scathing audit in May, which found that the HIDTA toolkit was not compatible with cameras and sensors used by CBP to screen family members at the Southwest border.

“While family residential processing is the basis for this HIDTA initiative, there is a lack of data demonstrating effectiveness in the deterrence of unlawful border crossing activities,” Roth said in a letter to Congress.

“The department should pause the use of the HIDTA program for the time being while a comprehensive review is conducted to determine if expedited entry criteria is sufficient for the screening of family members traveling in commercial vehicles.”

CBP denied that the high-cost unit had been using the HIDTA toolkit at any point and said it had found no evidence that the department had been misusing the toolkit.

“CBP has not adopted the first-ever high-dollar version of the Screening Surge Capacity (SSP) matrix used for reviewing CBP high-risk persons crossing the southwest border,” said spokeswoman Claire Hernandez.

Hernandez said the CBP’s SSP team had since been consolidated into its SSP Operations Team to include border security personnel assigned to CBP’s Southwest Border Field Operations (SBFO) Program Coordination at CBP’s HIDTA field offices.

“The following SSP teams are tasked to address high-risk persons, including who appear to be family units, as well as recent arrivals to the United States. The SSP team deployed to the Southwest border in 2017, and the last non-NFDP/RFIS deployments occurred in 2010,” she said.

“CBP was unable to make any substantive changes to the SSP matrix since 2015, despite repeated requests for an update from the directorate of [operations], which implemented a new matrix earlier this year. In response to that matrix’s implementation, family members continue to cross the southwest border illegally, as well as ongoing apprehensions of unaccompanied children.”

She added that the CBP had already implemented a number of recommendations made by the report, including disabling video recording capabilities in the migration center operating unit, and linking the family residential facility to the SSP operations team in order to gather better operational data.

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