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?