INS to GAO on border controversy: Tell 'the rest of the story'

| 1/31/2003

An immigration official Jan. 30 defended U.S. border guards who allowed undercover investigators using fictitious names and fake IDs to enter the United States.

Johnny Williams, executive associate commissioner for field operations, said the operation run by U.S. General Accounting Office investigators used American citizens in trying to fool agents at checkpoints in Florida, California and Washington state.

Experienced border guards who have inspected thousands of people are not required to check identification papers for American citizens entering the United States from Western Hemisphere countries, Williams said.

In addition, he told the Senate Finance Committee that agents often rely on their “sixth sense,” listen for voice inflections or look for nervousness to determine whether someone is a U.S. citizen, The Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said the operation, undertaken at the request of Sens. Charles Grassley, R-IA, and Max Baucus, D-MT, “obviously raises some legitimate issues.”

GAO investigators created fictitious driver's licenses and birth certificates using off-the-shelf computer graphics software. They carried fake credit cards with fictitious names. Agents entering the ports used those counterfeit documents.

Robert Cramer, managing director of GAO's Office of Special Investigations, said, "INS and U.S. Customs Service officials never questioned the authenticity of the counterfeit documents, and our agents encountered no difficulty entering the country using them."

According to AP, Sen. Grassley said after the hearing, “The agents on the front lines obviously need to be a lot more vigilant. Bouncers at college bars could spot the kind of fake IDs that were used by investigators. The officials in charge of border security need to be at least that good at their jobs.”