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The INS Escort of Criminal Aliens
Report Number I-2001-005
June 2001


Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended, the INS is responsible for removing aliens who are not legally entitled to remain in the United States. In March 2000, the INS Commissioner testified to the Congress that the removal of criminal aliens was a high INS priority. 2 During FY 1999 and FY 2000, the INS removed 180,000 and 183,000 illegal aliens, respectively. The FY 1999 total number includes 111,000 non-criminal removals and 69,000 criminal removals. The FY 2000 total number includes 113,000 non-criminal removals and 70,000 criminal removals. Therefore, in FY 1999 and FY 2000, the INS removed 139,000 criminal aliens.

The INS further categorizes the most violent criminal aliens from this total into a separate tracking system. 3 For FY 1999 and FY 2000, this system contained 30,000 of these criminal aliens involved in one or more types of violent crimes. Nine violent crime categories are used by the INS in this system: homicide, kidnapping, sexual assault, robbery, assault, arson, extortion, sex offenses, and weapon offenses. Many of these aliens were deported directly from prison after completion of their sentence. 4

Approximately 21,000 of these 30,000 criminal illegal aliens were Mexican nationals who were removed primarily on INS buses. About 9,000 non-Mexican criminal aliens were removed on civilian and government aircraft. Of these 9,000, 1,600 were removed from the four districts where we assessed the INS's escort process. Although the INS does not maintain centralized records on the type of aircraft (government or commercial) used for removing the 9,000 illegal aliens, based on our review of 158 cases where we assessed the INS's escort process, we estimate 80 percent were removed on commercial flights. 5

By 1995, incidents involving illegal aliens on commercial airlines were receiving increased congressional attention. During the 104th Congress (1995 - 1996), two bills were introduced in the Senate that addressed issues about criminal alien deportation. 6 The two Senators that introduced these bills also met with INS officials to discuss their concerns about unescorted criminal aliens being deported on commercial airlines. Over the next two years, INS General Counsel, INS union representatives, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots association, flight attendants association, and several representatives from commercial airlines held a series of meetings to discuss the problem. The participants at the meetings discussed an escort policy for criminal aliens posing a risk to the public and flight crew. These discussions resulted in the INS escort standard, which was published in February 1998. The standard applies to all INS personnel who apprehend, take into custody, transport or otherwise detain persons, with or without a warrant.

The 1998 escort standard lists five "Group Descriptors" that define for each group the circumstances requiring INS escort and the number of escorts required when the INS removes aliens on a commercial aircraft. 7 For example, Group 1 includes, in part, persons ordered removed who have good moral character and no criminal record. A Group 1 alien does not require an escort. Group 1a includes, in part, handicapped aliens and unaccompanied juveniles. Each Group 1a alien requires a minimum of one escort. Group 2 includes, in part, non-violent aliens with a criminal history. When fewer than ten Group 2 aliens are removed, an escort is not required. Ten Group 2 aliens require two escorts and for each additional five Group 2 aliens, the INS requires one additional escort. Group 3 includes, in part, violent criminals. Each Group 3 alien requires at least two escorts. Our review focused on the Group 3 aliens with a history of violent criminal behavior.

The INS Standard on Escorts
Group 3 Escort Required
Persons who are chargeable or were charged or convicted of criminal violations involving threat of force, assault, violence or killing any person or animal. Persons who are or have been verbally abusive, verbally combative, confrontational, vulgar or verbally coercive during the course of their immigration proceedings or custody, or who have otherwise indicated willingness or intent to resist physical removal from the United States pursuant to a lawful order or finding. Persons who are serving criminal sentences, being transferred or delivered to other jurisdictions where criminal proceedings are pending, regardless of whether or not the crime underlying the unexpired sentence or proceedings involved force or violence. At least two escorts per detainee are required. When traveling to destinations within the United States, these shall be armed officers.

The 1998 escort standard is used by INS detention and deportation field personnel to determine whether an illegal alien requires an escort. When removal becomes imminent, INS field officials will typically review an illegal alien's file for evidence of violent behavior (e.g., rap sheets, incident reports, past violent crimes, or certain other types of antisocial behavior). If such evidence exists, the illegal alien is classified as a Group 3 alien and is required to be escorted when removed on a commercial flight. The INS escort standard for Group 3 is described above.

The INS does not maintain comprehensive data on disruptive incidents caused by criminal aliens on aircraft. However, a few examples of incidents obtained from the INS demonstrate the clear need for special INS handling of violent, disruptive Group 3 aliens:

The importance of classifying Group 3 illegal aliens and providing escorts for their deportation is demonstrated by such reports. Group 3 aliens are identified as having a greater possibility of being a flight risk, escaping deportation, and causing bodily harm to others. Therefore, it is imperative for INS case officers to identify illegal aliens who may pose a threat to the public and apply the escort standard for deportation.

  1. Testimony of the the INS Commissioner before the House Appropriations Committee's subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary concerning the President's FY 2001 Budget Request, March 22, 2000.

  2. While we relied on this system to identify and extract cases for purposes of our study, we did not verify the reliability or timeliness of the data it contained.

  3. The INS's Institutional Hearing Program attempts to identify and complete removal proceedings for incarcerated aliens before they complete their sentence. This program was the subject of an earlier OIG study. See OIG Audit Report 95-30, The INS Selected Enforcement Activities.

  4. To remove illegal aliens, the INS uses commercial flights, government-owned aircraft operated by the Justice Prisoner Alien Transportation System, and chartered airplanes.

  5. S. 580, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, California, and S. 999, sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Texas.

  6. The INS Enforcement Standard, Escorts, Paragraph IV-D, "Escorting Detainees on Commercial Aircraft," February 5, 1998. See Appendix II.