IG: Better use of system by INS might have saved lives

IG: Better use of system by INS might have saved lives

By Shruti Dat'

GCN Staff

An illegal alien wanted in four murders crossed the U.S. border many times because Immigration and Naturalization Service employees failed to make full use of an alien tracking system, the Justice Department's inspector general says.

The IG review, released last month, also found that the lack of integration between the INS' IDENT fingerprint identification system and the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System hampered officers investigating the murders.

In the report, A Review of the INS's Actions and the Operation of Its IDENT Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the IG recommended that INS centralize responsibility for IDENT and integrate it with IAFIS to tighten border security.

Justice is seeking $5 million in its fiscal 2001 budget request for integrating IAFIS and IDENT.

'IDENT should be integrated with the FBI's IAFIS as soon as possible,' the IG report said. 'Although improving IDENT may correct some of the problems we found in this review, IDENT's lookout database will inevitably contain gaps.'

The lookout database contains fingerprints and photographs of 400,000 aliens with criminal records whom INS has deported.

In its response to the IG report, INS said it would continue to work with Justice and local law enforcement agencies to integrate the two systems. Agency officials declined to comment further.

A chief problem, the IG reported, is training. 'We found that IDENT training, particularly outside the Border Patrol, was ineffective or nonexistent. The INS has failed to effectively train its employees on IDENT,' the report said.

INS officials said they are developing an IDENT computer-training module to provide training for all INS officers.

The service deployed IDENT in 1994 to identify and track illegal aliens trying to re-enter the country. The agency began developing the system in 1989.

But it was the Rafael Resendez-Ramirez case that sparked the IG's concern about how INS uses IDENT. Resendez-Ramirez, who surrendered to federal and El Paso, Texas, law enforcement authorities on July 13, allegedly re-entered the United States from Mexico illegally seven times in 1998 and last year and committed four murders, the IG report said.

The Resendez-Ramirez case illustrates the potential IDENT has to thwart border crossings by illegal aliens who have committed crimes, the report concluded.

Resendez-Ramirez was first implicated in the December 1998 death of Dr. Claudia Benton in Houston. Local police obtained a warrant for his arrest, mounted a search and repeatedly asked INS investigators for assistance in early 1999, the IG report said.

In May 1999, police sought Resendez-Ramirez in connection with three other murders in Texas and Kentucky. The FBI issued a search warrant, formed a multiagency task force and placed him on its 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list in June. The FBI also entered information about the suspect in its National Crime Information Center database.

Missing the connection

But Resendez-Ramirez already had a criminal record. In 1994 he was indicted and released on bond in Albuquerque, N.M., on charges of driving a stolen vehicle. He failed to appear in court, the IG said. The warrant remained outstanding until Resendez-Ramirez surrendered last year. He is now awaiting trial on murder charges.

It was the multiagency task force, not IDENT, that made the connection between Resendez-Ramirez's border crossings and the murders. As officials investigated the slayings in mid-June, an INS Border Patrol intelligence officer discovered that Texas and New Mexico Border Patrol agents had apprehended Resendez-Ramirez for illegally crossing the border. They had entered data about him in IDENT and returned him to Mexico as recently as June 1'at the height of the federal and state murder investigations.

'It is clear that after each return to Mexico, [Resendez-Ramirez] re-entered the United States illegally and continued his criminal activities,' the IG said.

IDENT did not indicate that INS officials should detain Resendez-Ramirez, the report said.

'During our interviews of Border Patrol agents who apprehended him and processed Resendez-Ramirez [for the illegal border crossings], they exhibited confusion about IDENT procedures,' the IG report said.

Also, none of the INS investigators contacted by other law enforcement officers seeking Resendez-Ramirez last year placed a lookout for him in IDENT, the IG noted.

'We also found that they made mistakes in how they processed Resendez-Ramirez in IDENT, including how they responded to possible matches for him,' the report said.

INS employees view IDENT as a Border Patrol system and do not use it for other purposes, the IG report said.

'Most of the INS employees attributed their failure to use IDENT in the Resendez-Ramirez case to their lack of knowledge about the system,' the IG reported.

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