The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to better consider information collected on non-citizen family members apprehended at the southwestern U.S. border and develop unique identifiers to be shared across DHS component agency data systems to better link family members together,  government watchdog said.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that poor controls in identifying and sharing collected data puts DHS at risk of removing individuals from the U.S. who may be eligible for relief or protection based on family relationships.

“DHS has not identified the information its components collectively need about apprehended family members,” the report states. “Each DHS component collects information to meet its own operational needs, and does not consider the information needs of other components.”

The report also says that U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) collects information about family members for operational purposes, but doesn’t collect and document information at the time of apprehension that could be used by other DHS components later.

“It’s pretty damning that we may never have a full accounting of how many children were or remain separated – and that Border Patrol still may not be properly tracking families,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said in a joint statement.

GAO made four recommendations to the Secretary of DHS—all of which DHS concurred with— including:

  • Identify information about family members apprehended together that all DHS components need to process those family members;
  • Ensure that CBP collects information that DHS components collectively need;
  • Ensure CBP documents that information on Form I-213; and
  • Develop a unique identifier shared across DHS’ components data systems to link family members together when apprehended.
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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.