Can we trust Customs and Border Protection to screen refugees and asylum cases given what they’ve done with their eAPIS web site?

Americans expect the Department of Homeland Security to do a complex task reliably, i.e., figure out if someone who appears at a U.S. border crossing and asks for asylum (or who crosses illegally and is arrested and then claims to be a victim of persecution back home) is telling the truth and is therefore entitled to the usual U.S. welfare package (i.e., a lifetime of free housing, free health care, free food, and free smartphone).

It is impossible for citizens to know if this task is being done competently. Generally we don’t speak the language of the migrants. We don’t have any way to verify if their stories are true (see this story about a mother of four young children who says that she is being persecuted by the Honduran government; how would we ever determine the truth or falsehood of this statement?).

But most of us know what a competently-run web site looks like. About 13 years ago the U.S. government decided to impose on private aircraft operators the requirement to pre-submit passport-type details for everyone departing or arriving in the U.S. This is the “eAPIS” system at eapis.cbp.dhs.gov. We know that it has a database back-end because it can remember pilot details and information from recently filed manifests, but it is impossible for a family to enter all of the non-pilots persistently. This has led to various subscription services ($250/year for a popular example at fltplan.com) where someone else will keep a database and send over a completed manifest to CBP via XML. You might think that in 13 years the programmers at or working for CBP would have added the most-requested features, such as the ability for each user to save details for a few friends or family members, but this has not happened. At a minimum, this would likely reduce transcription errors (if a passport number is entered once it is more likely to be correct and consistent than if it must be entered 25 times).

The argument, I guess, is “well, this CBP agency is terrible at running a web service, but they’re great at everything else they do.” But usually when an enterprise is good at one thing they are pretty good at everything and when they’re bad at one thing it is usually because management has low standards for pretty much everything that the enterprise does.

Can we infer from their inability to run a decent 1995-style web service that CBP is never going to be able to screen refugees and asylum-seekers?

9 Comments

  1. Neal

    July 22, 2018 @ 2:09 pm

    1

    No, we cannot infer a metric which is harder to measure (e.g. screening performance) from an unrelated metric which happens to be easier to measure (e.g. website design).

  2. paddy

    July 22, 2018 @ 3:19 pm

    2

    I think you need to dig into who received the website contract. My guess, it was built by a non-governmental contractor.

  3. Anonymous

    July 22, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

    3

    @Philg – Do a little basic research before you spew. Asylum determination is not made by CPB agents at the border, it is made by asylum officers and judges in immigration court.

    And I still find it baffling why you insist on conflating refugees and asylum-seekers with welfare entitlements every time you bring up the subject. Where you got the idea that those coming to the US are only doing so to leech off us is a complete mystery to me.

    I’m sure you’ll enjoy going through the reports here before your next post: http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/reports/reports.php?layer=immigration&report_type=report

  4. Cathy

    July 22, 2018 @ 10:05 pm

    4

    Anonymous:
    > Asylum determination is not made by CPB agents at the border, it is
    > made by asylum officers and judges in immigration court.

    Did Phil say the decision is made by CPB agents at the border?

    How would asylum officers and judges in immigration court is telling the truth about the facts relevant to asylum eligibility? How can we know how often they are wrong?

    Do you think these are unfair or unreasonable questions? If so, why?

  5. philg

    July 22, 2018 @ 10:54 pm

    5

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/01/world/asylum-process-refugee-migrant-immigration-trnd/index.html

    says “There are two ways to request asylum. If someone has been in the US for less than a year, or is seeking asylum at a port of entry, it is considered affirmative asylum. If someone is facing deportation from the US or is caught trying to enter the US illegally, they can attempt to claim asylum in order to stay. This is known as defensive asylum ”

    CNN says that the asylum interviewing is done by USCIS and links to https://egov.uscis.gov/crisgwi/go?action=offices ; there is a big seal at the top left for “Department of Homeland Security”.

    So maybe my subject line isn’t correct, but the first sentence of the post body is? It is Department of Homeland Security, but not CBP?

  6. Brian Gulino

    July 22, 2018 @ 10:56 pm

    6

    Phil is 100% correct when he implies that it is impossible for U.S. government institutions to determine if someone actually is a refugee and to pretend otherwise is a ridiculous lie. We have 22 year old immigrant masseuses marrying 40 year old truckers, families with 5 kids living for the last 10 years in “war torn Syria”, and 20 year old mothers from South America who are suddenly the target of organized crime. And our courts and civil servants are tasked with determining the veracity of these stories after all of these people have been coached by immigration lawyers?

  7. Bill

    July 23, 2018 @ 2:40 pm

    7

    @Brian Gulino – if you’re looking for a DNA test to determine eligibility for asylum, you won’t find one. But there’s a reason that asylum law and the entire concept exists – it is to protect those who need protection.

    What legal standards in our society utilize a 100% rule? That’s an absurd red herring argument.

    Do some people game the system? Sure. Does that mean that we should stop considering granting refuge to asylum seekers? No. Is it a pain in the ass to adjudicate each claim? Perhaps, but that’s nothing new.

    Just because you are suspicious of asylum seekers, doesn’t mean all or most are illegitimate. They need to prove their claims to the satisfaction of the adjudicators and yes, judgment is involved, but judgment is involved in much decision making in our society.

    I’m guessing by the way that you put “war torn Syria” in quotes that you have never met actual Syrian refugees. It is sad that you so easily denigrate those who by no fault of their own have faced war and persecution. Perhaps you think our country should sit idly by. I do not.

  8. anon

    July 23, 2018 @ 7:02 pm

    8

    Of course some asylum seekers will try to game the system, and It’s hard to blame them for that. Of course, some DHS employees are competent, and it’s hard to make fun of those poor souls. The way I read the original post is that DHS does not look particularly competent overall, and our laws are broken, and the migrants are not stupid primitive people we took them to be.

    So, let’s be proud patriots, wave our flag, and tell other nations how virtuous we are. And our enemies will repent, and our friends will rejoice. And there will be piece and prosperity for all (except for Nazis and other Republicans).

    PhilG has committed treason by not trusting a profound government institution such as DHS! There was a recent precedent to that effect.

  9. anon

    July 23, 2018 @ 8:12 pm

    9

    I misspelled “peace” in #8, and now I feel like a genius. 😉
    But the comments are not editable.

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