GAO: Border Security Worse than in 2003 Test U.S. border security has not improved in the past three years, according to the Government Accountability Office. In a test earlier this year, investigators used fake driver's licenses and birth certificates to enter the United States from Canada and Mexico. None were detained.
NPR logo

GAO: Border Security Worse than in 2003 Test

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5602017/5602018" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
GAO: Border Security Worse than in 2003 Test

GAO: Border Security Worse than in 2003 Test

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5602017/5602018" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

More than three years ago, congressional investigators using fake IDs were able to enter the United States repeatedly without being challenged by authorities. This year they did a follow up test to see if border security had improved.

The results were released today and as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, the news is not good.

PAM FESSLER reporting:

Investigators with the Government Accountability Office used phony driver's licenses and birth certificates earlier this year as they tried to cross from Canada and Mexico into the United States. Each time they got through, no problem. Not one customs or border patrol official questioned the authenticity of their documents and sometimes they weren't even asked to show ID. What surprised Senate finance committee chairman Charles Grassley is that undercover agents were more successful this year than they were before.

Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): They used the same phone documents and the same fake IDs to cross the U.S. border 18 more times. And they weren't ever caught once.

FESSLER: Gregory Kutz of GAO noted that in 2003, one investigator was stopped at a New York crossing when he showed an expired passport and fake driver's license, but that was little consolation.

Mr. GREGORY KUTZ (GAO): This individual used the same documents later in 2003 to enter the United States in California and Texas.

FESSLER: Even though his name had been entered into a security database. Kutz said this year agents made new counterfeit driver's licenses and birth certificates from the states of West Virginia and New York.

Mr. KUTZ: To create these bogus documents, we used software and information that was available to the public. We also used the same bogus name and identifiers for the West Virginia driver's license that we used for our 2002 operation.

FESSLER: Jason Ahern is assistant commissioner for Customs and Border Protection. He admitted that border officials have a hard time spotting fake IDs. He said it's a big problem along the Mexican and Canadian borders, where passports are not required for U.S. citizens.

Mr. JASON AHERN (Customs and Border Protection): Consequently our officers must verify the authenticity of more than 8,000 different types of documents from various counties, cities, states, as well as some foreign countries on the spot within a matter of minutes to identify the individual and also their citizenship.

FESSLER: He said what's needed is a standardized machine-readable ID card or passport for all those entering the United States from Canada and Mexico. Congress passed legislation requiring just that beginning in 2008, but Ahern reminded Grassley that there's a big push now in Congress to postpone the requirement because of concerns about its impact on tourism and trade.

Mr. AHERN: We will have the same type of a hearing periodically, sir, until we actually have that full security capabilities on the primary borders of this country.

Mr. GRASSLEY: Okay, so until the perfect document comes along, then there isn't anything you're going to try to do between now and then?

Mr. AHERN: That's not my response, sir.

FESSLER: Ahern said among other things, customs and border agents will be getting more training on how to spot fake IDs. Grassley said he wants frequent updates on how things are going so he won't have to hold a similar hearing in another two years.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.