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GAO report faults Border Patrol on checkpoints

A draft government study found the Border Patrol isn’t measuring how its checkpoints along the border affect the quality of life in surrounding communities.

One of the findings of a Government Accountability Office draft report was that the Border Patrol hasn’t documented how many agents it needs to confront smugglers sneaking around a proposed permanent checkpoint on Interstate 19 in southern Arizona.

Residents near a southern Arizona checkpoint have complained that illegal immigrants and smugglers are flooding their community as they sneak around the roadblock. The Border Patrol operates a checkpoint at an overpass in Tubac, Ariz.

The Associated Press obtained its highlights Aug. 28 from a congressional source who asked not to be named because the report won’t be officially released until Aug. 31.

The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, examined the performance of checkpoints and the extent to which Border Patrol considered the effect of checkpoints on nearby communities.

Border Patrol spokesman Omar Candelaria and C.J. Karamargin, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of southern Arizona, declined to comment on the draft report.

Former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, who left office more than two years ago, had supported measures that had withheld funding for permanent inspection stations. Kolbe argued checkpoints that are periodically moved are more effective than permanent ones because they introduce the element of surprise to smugglers.

Kolbe, who reviewed the highlights of the draft report, said his reading led him to believe that the GAO examination won’t contribute to the resolution of the debate over checkpoints.

“The basic question all along is the relative value of mobility versus permanence, and they don’t touch that at all,” Kolbe said.

The report said the Border Patrol uses agents and technology to seek out people who are sneaking around checkpoints, but other priorities prevent the agency from putting more than a minimum number of agents in such areas.

“The fact that the checkpoint strategy intends to push illegal aliens and smugglers to areas around checkpoints – which could include nearby communities – underscores the need for the Border Patrol to ensure that it deploys sufficient resources and staff to these areas,” said the draft report.

The report said the Border Patrol has ways to gauge its checkpoint operations, but they didn’t indicate if they were operating effectively.

GAO found a lack of management oversight and unclear guidance on collecting checkpoint data led to an overstatement of their performance in 2007 and 2008 and that these factors hindered the agency’s ability to monitor the need for improvements to the program.

“We are heartened that GAO has found the same flaws in the collection and reporting of data by the Border Patrol that the citizens are concerned about, and we are very supportive of their recommendations,” said Nan Stockholm Walden, whose family runs a nearby agriculture business

She said she isn’t against all checkpoints, but believes that mobile checkpoints are the most effective way of monitoring the roadway.

The Border Patrol followed its guidelines for considering community safety and convenience in four recent decision on where to put checkpoints, including the proposed permanent checkpoint in southern Arizona, the draft report said.

Traffic volumes were a key factor of the I-19 checkpoint, but weren’t considered when determining the number of inspection lanes for three recently completed checkpoints in Texas.

Without comment on the draft report, Candelaria said the Border Patrol’s primary concern is for the safety of communities and that until the agency has enough resources to stop everyone trying sneak across the border, the checkpoints are a critical additional layer of defense.

GAO recommended that the federal government establish controls for overseeing the accuracy of data on checkpoints and use its quality-of-life measures to evaluate the effects on checkpoints on communities.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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