Federal audit shows DHS needs to improve system of obtaining valid addresses for migrants released from custody

Concertina wire lines the banks of the Rio Grande on the Pecan farm of Hugo and Magali Urbina, near Eagle Pass, Texas, Monday, July 7, 2023. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has escalated measures to keep migrants from entering the U.S. He's pushing legal boundaries along the border with Mexico to install razor wire, deploy massive buoys on the Rio Grande and bulldozing border islands in the river. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) (Eric Gay, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A recently released audit from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General calls for improvements in how the government obtains and validates addresses of migrants released into the United States.

The OIG’s report reads, “Based on our review of 981,671 migrant records documented by (United States Border Patrol) 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.”

The report further reads, “On average, DHS releases more than 60,000 migrants into the United States each month. 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.”

The report notes the large volume of apprehensions along the southern border seemed to contribute to the errors in obtaining valid addresses from those released from custody.

According to the OIG, “During our interviews, agents stated they did not record and validate all addresses because the sectors had to focus more on transferring migrants out of custody within legal time limits, dictated by policy, during upticks in illegal border crossings.”

The report cites Customs and Border Protection’s national standards of working to not keep detainees in “hold rooms or holding facilities” for longer than 72 hours.

The OIG’s report notes Texas’s Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley sectors were the busiest between March 2021 and August 2022 and accounted for 23 address errors per 100 releases. The report notes the other remaining sectors showed 16 errors per 100 releases.

The OIG made four recommendations for improving the process of obtaining and validating addresses of migrants released from custody. DHS officials did not concur with any of the recommendations.

“Our immigration system is broken and outdated and Congress needs to fix it. Even under those outdated laws, the Department has improved how noncitizens are processed and vetted. Individuals seeking to come to the United States are screened by DHS and our intelligence and counterterror partners to prevent anyone who poses a threat from entering the country,” a DHS spokesperson wrote in a statement to KPRC 2. “The IG ignores legal and operational constraints that make it impossible for the Department to implement its recommendations. The report also excludes several recent DHS improvements to how we track and update noncitizen addresses across agencies.”

A DHS official also sent us a list of improvements made to the system of obtaining and vetting addresses.

  • DHS has taken a number of steps to improve tracking of migrant addresses, including launching a new Unified Immigration Portal, a new Online Change of Address Form, and a specialized docket for noncitizens who do not have a valid address at the time of border processing:
  • Unified Immigration Portal: U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Unified Immigration Portal (UIP) connects datasets from the Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Justice (DOJ), to provide integrated digital processing capabilities that support the end-to-end electronic review and approval throughout the immigration lifecycle.
  • Change of Address Form: In April 2023, ICE deployed a new online change of address form.  This new form includes built-in address verification, which officers currently use along with existing public websites, such as the United States Postal Service and Google Maps, to validate addresses provided by migrants.
  • EOIR-33 Docket: DHS collaborated with DOJ in creating a specialized “EOIR-33 docket” for noncitizens in removal proceedings who are headed to a particular city but who do not have a fixed address in that city. Noncitizens placed on that docket are flagged in the Unified Immigration Portal and directed to provide an updated address at their first hearing.
  • The OIG report focuses on USBP’s collection of addresses during initial processing but fails to account for the fact that noncitizens’ addresses may change once they are released into the interior. DHS’s improvements to the change of address process are vital for facilitating tracking and compliance.
  • Challenges in verifying the addresses of migrants have been a longstanding issue across different Administrations since the passing of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1952.
  • OIG’s final recommendations do not consider additional improvements DHS has made to increase its surge capacity and expand processing capabilities.
  • DHS secured funding to hire more than 300 additional Border Patrol agents, the first such increase in more than a decade.
  • Surged resources to the border from multiple DHS components.
  • Hired 1,000 Border Patrol Processing Coordinators and additional contract personnel to manage elevated migration levels in a safe, orderly, and humane way.

You can read the full report and DHS’s responses below.

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”