The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has limited ability to track migrants’ post-release addresses accurately and effectively, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says.
DHS released more than 1 million migrants into the United States from March 2021 through August 2022. Prior to releasing each migrant, DHS personnel are required to obtain an address when possible. But OIG has found that U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) cannot always obtain and does not always record migrant addresses, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not always validate migrant addresses prior to migrant release into the United States.
In March 2021, USBP agents were instructed to obtain a U.S. destination address, also referred to as a post-release address, “to the extent the subjects know it.” This guidance also instructs USBP to document the address in its system of record. However, based on OIG’s review of 981,671 migrant records documented by USBP from March 2021 through August 2022, addresses for more than 177,000 migrant records were either missing, invalid for delivery, or not legitimate residential locations. Numerous USBP and ICE officials told OIG that some migrants do not have an address to provide when crossing the border. Others provide handwritten addresses that may be in another language, invalid, or illegible.
In addition to migrants not providing U.S. release addresses, DHS faced several challenges hindering its ability to record and validate migrant addresses as required. In more than 90,000 instances, apartment addresses were provided with no unit number, which makes actual delivery unlikely.
During the course of the audit, OIG attempted to locate and validate several addresses, including two in Maryland that did not exist on online maps. OIG confirmed these Maryland addresses were non-existent and one of these had been recorded by USBP agents 50 different times during a six-month period. Migrants may share addresses with one another to help ensure they will be released into the country. USBP and ICE personnel at multiple locations told OIG that migrants often share commonly used addresses and may reuse addresses based on extended family all going to the same location or based on information from potential smugglers. The audit determined that a total of 780 addresses were used more than 20 times.
OIG found that USBP did not accurately and effectively capture valid addresses, in part due to the large number of migrants apprehended, as well as its limited coordination with ICE and its limited authority to administer compliance with address requirements.
OIG’s audit also found that ICE did not have adequate resources to validate and analyze migrants’ post-release addresses. ICE must be able to locate migrants to enforce immigration laws, including to arrest or remove individuals who are considered potential threats to national security.
ICE’s method to validate U.S. addresses varied by location. For example, ICE personnel validated some U.S. addresses using open-source websites, such as USPS and online search engines. Based on this level of analysis, some deportation officers identified addresses of parks and commercial retail stores migrants listed as the location at which they would reside. Elsewhere, ICE personnel conducted more in-depth analysis to validate some addresses, such as searching DHS databases. Using additional analysis, one ICE deportation officer identified more than 100 migrants who used one individual’s contact information as their point of contact in the United States.
OIG found that ICE does not have sufficient resources to oversee the volume of apprehended migrants. For example, ICE deportation officers at one field office were responsible for 35,000 migrant cases post-release, averaging about three minutes of staff time per case annually. During the audit, one senior ICE official acknowledged that, due to the high volume of cases, ICE deportation officers cannot always validate migrant addresses or effectively track if migrants check in at field offices, as required. When migrants do not check in, ICE cannot ensure the migrant understands the next steps in the immigration process, and cannot easily locate migrants who may be threats to public safety or are scheduled for removal.
The notable percentage of missing, invalid for delivery, or duplicate addresses on file ultimately means DHS may not be able to locate migrants following their release into the United States. As the Department continues to apprehend and release tens of thousands of migrants each month, valid post-release addresses are essential.
OIG made four recommendations to improve the controls validating migrants’ post-release U.S. addresses. DHS acknowledged obtaining valid addresses from migrants has been a longstanding issue, but did not agree with the recommendations. The Department stated that it has significantly improved how it processes noncitizens encountered along the U.S. borders and is currently implementing technology improvements to facilitate information sharing between DHS components and external agencies. DHS also indicated that since the conclusion of OIG’s fieldwork, ICE has deployed a new online change of address form, which included built-in address verification.