WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., Tuesday sought clarification from the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services on the case of a Mexican citizen with a highly contagious, multi-drug resistant form of tuberculosis who repeatedly crossed the southern border into the United States after border security officers had been notified to deny his entry and place him on a watch list.
“This incident highlights vulnerabilities we believe still exist within our nation’s border screening systems,” the Senators wrote, adding, “We are troubled by the slow release of information to our Committee from the Department about the Amaya case, some of which has proven to be contradicted by other government sources. In particular, we are concerned that the Department claimed to have originally received only an alias for Mr. Amaya, but later reported that it received a complete last name and middle name for him.”
The letters to the two departments are very similar. Following is a copy of the DHS letter:
October 30, 2007
The Honorable Michael Chertoff
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Chertoff:
We write to seek additional information from the Department regarding the recent breach in border security which allowed a Mexican citizen with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) to repeatedly enter the United States after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was alerted and directed to deny his entry. This incident highlights vulnerabilities we believe still exist within our nation’s border screening systems. We are also troubled by reports, which appear contradictory, that we have received from the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about the facts of this case, including the timing of events and information gathered from the individual in question.
Customs and Border Protection faces a daunting challenge in facilitating travel for millions of people, while at the same time protecting our borders by preventing dangerous individuals and materials from entering the country. Since 9/11 much work has been done to increase the layers of protection at our nation’s ports of entry. Nevertheless, according to an October 24, 2007 report by the GAO, CBP officers noted several incidents involving individuals on watch lists who were erroneously admitted into the United States. Another example is the case of the Mexican national with MDR-TB, Amado Isidro Armendariz Amaya, who was allowed to repeatedly enter the U.S. between April 16 and May 31, 2007, despite a lookout being placed in the CBP computer-based screening system for him.
We are troubled by the slow release of information to our Committee from the Department about the Amaya case, some of which has proven to be contradicted by other government sources. In particular, we are concerned that the Department claimed to have originally received only an alias for Mr. Amaya, but later reported that it received a complete last name and middle name for him. Furthermore, DHS officials reported that they could not provide the Committee with information about the flights that Mr. Amaya took within the U.S. after DHS was alerted to his health status. The CDC, however, stated that it had received Mr. Amaya’s flight information from the Office of Health Affairs at DHS. We expect to receive complete and accurate information on this case in a timely manner.
Finally, during the same days that the Department became aware of Mr. Amaya’s case, the Department was briefing Congress on the case of Andrew Speaker, an American who was also infected with MDR-TB and who was also admitted to the U.S. despite CBP having placed a lookout for him in their computer-based screening system. During the week of June 4, 2007, personnel from the Department, including the Chief Medical Officer and CBP who were involved in both the Amaya and Speaker cases, briefed the Committee on the vulnerabilities in our border systems that allowed Andrew Speaker to re-enter the U.S undetected. However, no one from DHS alerted the Committee of the Mexican national who had entered the U.S. undetected 21 times in the seven prior weeks. We find it troubling that no one from your Department thought it prudent to advise the Senate of the Amaya case at the time that the Committee was investigating the vulnerabilities that allowed another person with MDR-TB and on a watch list to enter the U.S. undetected.
It is important to ensure that proper coordination and communication exist between our public health and border security agencies so that individuals known to have dangerous infectious diseases do not enter the country. Using this case to expose weaknesses in our interagency communications, border procedures, and border watchlists will enable us to strengthen these systems before we are faced with an epidemic, such as SARS or a pandemic flu, which could have a devastating effect on our public health.
In order to address our concerns on this matter, we respectfully request that you provide the Committee with an after-action report in response to the Amaya case, a complete timeline of events for the case, and timely responses to the following questions:
1. When were the Office of Health Affairs (OHA) and CBP informed about the case of the Mexican national infected with MDR-TB, Amado Isidro Armendariz Amaya, and who was notified at each organization?
2. What information about this individual was initially provided to OHA and CBP and who provided the information? Please provide a copy of this notification.
3. When did CBP first run a search for the individual in its computer-based screening system known as TECS? Please provide a record of when the initial name was run in TECS and of the information retrieved from that search.
4. What information was entered into TECS when CBP ran an initial search for the Mexican national in its computer based screening system?
5. If the individual’s names and other personal information were entered into TECS, did TECS find a match in its system for the individual? If not, why not?
6. Was TECS capable of finding a match based on the Mexican national’s middle name, two last names, and birth date? If not, why not?
7. Is TECS capable of finding a match on any person based on names and personal information not fully complete or presented in the incorrect order?
8. Did OHA or CBP ask CDC if the information provided to them, such as the name and date of birth, were verified with identity documents? What was CDC’s response?
9. When did OHA and CBP determine that the name and date of the individual initially provided was incomplete or inaccurate?
10. Did OHA or CBP inform the CDC that the individual’s name was incomplete or inaccurate? If so, when?
11. If OHA and CBP received an incomplete name and date of birth, what efforts did OHA and CBP undertake to establish a full and correct name and date of birth?
12. When did OHA and CBP receive updated and accurate information about the individual’s name and date of birth?
13. Did CBP run a new search in its computer screening system, TECS, when it received an updated name and date of birth? Please provide a record of these updated searches and the information that was collected as a result of the searches.
14. When did CBP issue a border lookout bulletin for the individual? When and why was this bulletin updated? Does a border lookout bulletin still exist for this individual? Please provide these bulletin(s).
15. Which ports of entry received the initial bulletin and which received follow-up bulletins? Why was the bulletin expanded to other ports of entry?
16. How many times and through which ports of entry did the Mexican national enter the United States between the time that CDC first alerted OHA and CBP that he should be denied entry and the time the individual’s border crossing card was cancelled.
17. When did OHA or CBP provide information about the Mexican national to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)? Was this information updated, and if so, when?
18. If there was a delay in providing information to TSA from the initial report of the individual’s name provided from CDC to OHA and CBP, please explain the cause for the delay.
19. How much time passed between the time OHA and CBP received initial information about the individual and the time TSA was provided the name of the individual in order to place him on the TSA “no board” list? If there was a delay, please explain why.
20. How much time passed between the time OHA and CBP learned of the complete name of the individual and the time TSA was provided this information in order to place his name on the TSA “no board” list? If there was a delay, please explain the cause.
21. When did OHA and CBP learn that this Mexican national had taken any flights within the United States? Was that information provided to CDC? If so, when? Please provide details of the U.S. flights the individual took between the time CDC alerted OHA and CBP of the individual and the time his border crossing card was canceled.
22. Did OHA and CBP find any similarities between the Andrew Speaker case and the case of the Mexican national?
23. Did OHA and CBP participate in a conference call or have any communication with other DHS components or the CDC about the Mexican national infected with MDR-TB? If so, please provide the dates and list of participants. Also provide the Committee with a summary of those communications.
24. In those interagency conference calls did anyone also discuss the case of Andrew Speaker? If so, for what purpose?
25. Does CBP or OHA have information about another case of a person infected with MDR-TB who CDC advised should not be allowed entry to the U.S. and for which CBP placed a lookout in its computer based security system, but who was nevertheless granted entry into the U.S., in the last year?
26. Why did OHA and CBP fail to disclose information about the Mexican national infected with MDR-TB to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during the June 4th briefing?
27. Did OHA or CBP inform other Congressional Committee(s) about the Mexican national infected with MDR-TB before Oct. 17, 2007? If so, when and which Committee(s)?
28. Were any DHS personnel, including CBP personnel in El Paso, Texas ever instructed not to discuss the case regarding the Mexican national outside the Department? If such a directive was made, did it extend to briefing Members of Congress? If such a directive was made, who made it?
29. Describe the purpose of the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) among the CDC, Department of Health and Human Services, and DHS for establishing alerts on travelers who may present a public health threat. Please provide the draft SOP.
30. When will the SOP be finalized?
31. How many individuals are currently on the TSA “no board” list due to public health concerns and how many have been on it since its inception in May 2007?
We look forward to receiving a response by November 6, 2007, and thank you in advance for your cooperation. If you have questions about this request, please contact Patricia Rojas on the majority Committee staff at (202) 224-2627 or Rob Strayer on the minority staff at (202) 224-4751.
Joseph I. Lieberman