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19 May 2024

US explores AI to train immigration officers on talking to refugees

Published
By CNA

 The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is piloting artificial intelligence to train officers who review applicants for refugee status in the United States, Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Tuesday.

The work addresses what Mayorkas said is “labor-intensive” instruction that typically involves senior personnel. In this pilot, he said, DHS is training machines to act like refugees so officers can practice interviewing them.
"Refugee applicants, given the trauma that they have endured, are reticent to be forthcoming in describing that trauma," he said. "So we're teaching the machine to be reticent as well" and to adopt other "characteristics" of applicants.

The remarks, made on the sidelines of the security-focused RSA Conference in San Francisco, elaborate on AI initiatives that DHS announced earlier this year. The department has said it planned to develop an interactive app to supplement its training of immigration officers, drawing on so-called generative AI that creates novel content based on past data.

Specifically, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within DHS, would build an AI program that tailored training materials to officers' needs and prepare them to make more accurate decisions, the department said.

AI will not make immigration decisions themselves, DHS told Reuters. The AI will know country-specific conditions and other information to help officers, Mayorkas said.

The pilot adds to the many tests in industry and government seeking to reduce costs and improve performance through AI, particularly after ChatGPT's viral launch in 2022. Such experimentation has not been without problems, including issues with translation, incorrect timeframes and pronouns.
Among more "advanced" deployments of AI, Mayorkas said the department has worked to spot anomalies when commercial trucks and passenger vehicles make border crossings. The goal, he said, is to help the department detect smuggling attempts for bringing fentanyl and other contraband into the United States.