November 10, 2005

Audit urges merger of US border, immigration units

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The immigration and customs
operations of the recently created Department of Homeland
Security are inefficient and should be merged, the department's
inspector general said on Thursday.

The inspector general said in a report that Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) -- created in early 2003 when 22 agencies were combined
into the mammoth Homeland Security Department -- were incapable
of coordinating their efforts in several major areas.

"The current organizational structure resulted in
inefficiencies in the customs and immigration enforcement
processes," the report said.

It said merging the two organizations would result in a
consolidated border security agency with a single
chain-of-command that would be better positioned to coordinate
priorities and deploy resources.

Leading senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental
Affairs Committee, who asked the inspector general to look at
whether merging the agencies would make them more effective,
said the report showed the status quo could not continue.

"These agencies are charged with the important and often
challenging responsibility of enforcing our immigration and
customs laws," said committee Chairman Susan Collins, a
Republican from Maine.

"This report verifies what so many law enforcement
officials, current and former employees of the agencies and
well respected outside groups have said -- these two agencies
are dysfunctional in their current structure," she said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the ranking Democrat on the
committee, urged Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
to consider the inspector general's recommendation.

CBP is responsible for customs and immigration activities
while ICE investigates customs and immigration enforcement
cases and is also responsible for the detention and removal of
illegal aliens.

The report said the lack of coordination between the
agencies caused problems with apprehension and detention
proceedings of illegal immigrants. It said they did not
coordinate intelligence gathering despite an overlapping need
for intelligence about illegal immigrants, fraudulent travel
documents and import and export violations.