The INS is placing the traveling public at potential risk because it does not consistently follow its own escort policy. In three of the four districts we visited, INS supervisory field officials clearly disregarded provisions of the INS escort standard, resulting in the removal of violent Group 3 aliens without escorts on commercial airlines. In addition, some dangerous aliens were not identified by the INS during the routine pre-removal alien file review process. Field officials often failed to provide the required ratio of escorts to Group 3 aliens. Further, the INS escort standard fails to require escorts for non-Group 3 aliens who may pose a danger to the public. Additionally, the INS does not adequately coordinate the escort process with the Department of State (DOS).
Conformance to the INS Escort Standard
In 35 of the 158 removal cases we reviewed in four districts, the INS failed to properly escort Group 3 aliens. Of the 35 cases, 8 aliens were not escorted at all, 9 were only escorted on the first segment of the trip, and 18 did not have the required ratio of INS escort officers to Group 3 aliens. The violent criminal background associated with the unescorted Group 3 aliens included homicide, assault, sex offense against a child, aggravated battery, sexual assault, illegal possession or discharge of a firearm, rape, and other aggravated felonies. Examples from our review of non-compliant escorts of Group 3 aliens are described on page 8.
BALTIMORE DISTRICT SITE VISIT
In 4 of the 27 removal cases we reviewed in this district, the INS did not properly escort Group 3 aliens. Three aliens were only escorted on the first segment of the trip and one did not have the required ratio of INS escort officers to Group 3 aliens. The violent background of these unescorted criminal aliens included sex offense on a child, resisting arrest, assault, and an aggravated felon with anger control and mental problems.
Additionally, we found that district officials implemented the escort standard arbitrarily. Based on our interviews, no one official was responsible for assigning escorts. The Deportation Supervisor first told us that it is his responsibility and then subsequently told us that he and other supervisors share the decision. For those cases where escorts were not provided, the Deportation Supervisor agreed that escorts were required but expressed uncertainty about why they had not been assigned. The supervisor speculated that an INS employee who reviewed the case must have missed the evidence of criminal behavior contained in the illegal alien's file.
CHICAGO DISTRICT SITE VISIT
In 12 of the 51 removal cases we reviewed in this district, the INS failed to properly escort Group 3 aliens. Of the 12 cases, 7 aliens were not escorted at all, 2 were only escorted on the first segment of the trip, and 3 did not have the required ratio of INS escort officers to Group 3 aliens. We determined that the Assistant Director for Detention and Deportation (ADDD) denied escorts in cases involving Group 3 aliens who had been charged with violent activities such as rape, aggravated battery (maiming a woman by pouring hot grease on her), and aggravated assault. In one case we reviewed, INS district officers attempted to place an unescorted alien on a commercial airplane but were refused by the pilot. The alien's criminal history included an arrest for violent felony robbery and for resisting a police officer.
We found that the ADDD disregarded the INS escort standard. Of 11 cases that had been submitted to the ADDD during three months of last year, the ADDD rejected 7 escort recommendations that clearly fell within the INS escort standard. The ADDD had solicited and received written recommendations on the need for escorts in each of the 11 cases from the INS Deportation Officer (DO) assigned as the alien's case officer. The case officer is typically most knowledgeable of the specific criminal alien's case history. The DO reviewed the criminal alien's file concerning violent, dangerous activities and recommended an escort assignment based upon the INS escort standard.
In response to our inquiry about the denial of the escorts in these cases, the ADDD cited the need to save money and expressed the view that full adherence to the INS escort standard was not required. 8 The ADDD stated that the escort standard does not require escorts for persons who are only "charged or were chargeable" for a crime or crimes. However, the INS escort standard for Group 3 aliens clearly states "persons who are chargeable or were charged" with criminal violations require two escorts. Additionally, we found that several other INS officers in the district who were involved in the escort process were not fully familiar with the INS escort standard requirements.
ATLANTA DISTRICT SITE VISIT
In 6 of the 40 removal cases we reviewed, the INS failed to properly escort Group 3 aliens. Of the six cases, one alien was not escorted at all, four were only escorted on the first segment of the trip, and one did not have the required ratio of INS escort officers to Group 3 aliens. The crimes of unescorted Group 3 aliens we reviewed in this district included a sex offense against a child and assault.
Seven of the cases we reviewed involved Group 3 aliens removed to Africa and Haiti. Three aliens were only escorted on the first segment of the trip but not to their final destination. The supervisor responsible for assigning escorts had a practice of not escorting Group 3 aliens to the final destination of many developing countries in Africa and the Caribbean. The supervisor stated that INS escort officers would be in danger in particular countries. In support of this policy, the supervisor said that two INS detention enforcement officers had been harassed and arrested by local officials upon arrival in Ghana. This supervisor also cited safety travel advisories issued by the DOS for individuals traveling in certain foreign countries. When traveling to Africa, the escorts would typically accompany the Group 3 alien only on the first segment of the trip that often terminated in a European country. INS officers would then place the Group 3 alien unescorted on a commercial flight for the final segment of the journey. We believe that periodic travel situations - hostilities, wide-scale unrest - may necessitate temporary suspension of travel to some countries, but a practice of routinely not escorting aliens to many developing countries is an unacceptable policy. None of the other INS districts we visited followed this policy.
NEW YORK DISTRICT SITE VISIT
In 13 of the 40 removal cases we reviewed in this district, the INS did not properly escort Group 3 aliens. Although each of these 13 aliens had at least one escort assigned, none of these 13 aliens had the required ratio of two INS escort officers for each Group 3 alien. The crimes committed by these Group 3 aliens included homicide or sexual assault.
Senior district management readily admitted that the district did not meet the required ratio of two INS escorts for each Group 3 alien because of insufficient personnel resources. However, during our interviews in this district, INS officers expressed concern that without a strong numerical advantage over the Group 3 aliens they could be overpowered and placed in a dangerous situation.
|Sample Cases of Non-Compliant Escorts of Criminal Aliens|
NEW YORK DISTRICT:
Conclusions and Recommendations
The four INS districts we visited were not consistently adhering to the INS escort standard. We discussed our findings with detention and removal officials at INS headquarters. They stated that as part of the restructuring of the detention and deportation program they are creating a compliance unit to monitor field activities and to ensure that program goals are met and that policies are followed. However, the unit is not yet fully functional. The detention and removal officials believe this unit can improve field compliance to the escort standard through both cyclical and unannounced reviews.
We believe that management officials at INS headquarters and in the field need to do a better job in ensuring that violent Group 3 aliens are properly escorted on international commercial flights. Our conclusion is based on numerous instances where dangerous Group 3 aliens traveled unescorted on international commercial flights. The INS's practice contradicted its policy and placed the public, airline personnel, and its escort officers at unnecessary and unreasonable risk. We recommend that the INS Commissioner:
Deficiencies in the INS Escort Standard
The INS's escort standard needs to be broadened to include illegal aliens who, while not having an existing criminal history, are nevertheless readily identifiable as having a clear potential for violence. For example, known members of terrorist organizations, known members of violent street gangs, and known members of major drug organizations who do not have established criminal histories fall outside the Group 3 criteria but may be among the most dangerous aliens subject to removal. In one case, field officials sought guidance from INS headquarters deportation officials concerning the need for escorting a Lebanese national who had been arrested by a federal-state task force investigating, in part, support for Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization. Field supervisors sought headquarters guidance because the illegal alien did not meet INS escort standard criteria but the field supervisors believed the illegal alien's connection to a terrorist organization warranted escorts. INS headquarters indicated that no escort was needed in the case. However, we believe that when the violent nature of an organization is apparent, the INS's policy of not escorting illegal aliens with known ties to that organization places the public at an unreasonable risk.
Second, in accordance with the INA, the INS requires an airline that transports an improperly documented alien to the United States to promptly return the passenger to the country where the incoming flight had originated. The INS refers to these individuals as "turn-arounds." INS district and headquarters officials maintained that the INS was not responsible for escorting improperly documented aliens to their country of origin after they were caught attempting to enter the United States during routine INS airport inspections. INS officials cited section 241(e) of the INA that requires the airlines to pay "the transportation costs for removing the alien."
During our review, we noted that the INS had detained two such aliens and was aware that their criminal history included a sex offense, weapons offense, and assault. One alien had been deported under INS escort but had returned to the United States soon thereafter on a commercial airline. After being caught during an INS airport inspection process, both dangerous criminal aliens were placed unescorted on a return flight by INS inspectors. In turn-around situations, the INS does not typically inform the airline that it will be carrying an unescorted dangerous criminal alien. The INS has a responsibility, at a minimum, to notify the airline of the potential danger.
Third, the Group 3 category in the INS escort standard includes individuals displaying antisocial behavior who may pose a risk to the public. For example, individuals who are or have been vulgar, verbally abusive, or verbally combative during their immigration proceedings fall into the category requiring two escorts. Although INS officials may deem some of these individuals harmless, they currently must provide two escorts, thus using limited district resources. Based on our field interviews, we agreed with district officials that this issue needs to be clarified in the INS escort standard.
Finally, there is no requirement that all pertinent information on violent actions committed by an illegal alien in state or local custody be provided to the INS. Several Detention Enforcement Officers and DOs raised the issue that important incident reports from state and local entities may not be received by the INS and placed in an alien's file. For example, state and local detention facilities holding aliens under contract with the INS are not required to report instances when an alien causes problems while in custody. This information is important when reviewing an illegal alien's official file so a proper escort determination can be made.
We discussed with INS headquarters officials the need for INS contracts with state and local detention facilities to include a provision that requires the facilities to inform INS district offices about any alien behavioral problems. INS officials noted there was no requirement for detention facilities to provide incident reports involving detained aliens. The INS agreed it would be feasible to include such a provision in the contract with state and local detention facilities.
Conclusions and Recommendations
We conclude that the INS needs to assess and revise its escort standard to ensure clarity of terms and to require that escorts be provided for all types of dangerous and disruptive illegal aliens being removed. We recommend that the INS Commissioner:
Ineffective Escort Coordination
In all four districts we visited, INS field staff complained about problems they encountered after landing at foreign destinations while escorting aliens, especially in developing countries. They gave us examples such as the lack of a foreign official to accept a Group 3 alien, the lack of a translator to communicate with foreign officials, and the lack of assistance from U.S. officials while in the foreign country. The most serious incidents reported to us by INS officials were the arrest of two INS officers escorting a Group 3 alien upon their arrival in Ghana and the detention of two INS officers escorting a Group 3 alien by Brazilian federal police at the airport.
We were told that it is common that no one - local officials or U.S. embassy officials - meets INS escorts on their arrival in a foreign country. As a result, INS escorts will try to locate a foreign official at the airport and attempt to transfer the escorted Group 3 alien to the official's custody. This can be difficult because INS escorts have no authority in a foreign country and often do not speak the language. If INS officers cannot find a local official, they normally release the Group 3 alien in the airport.
When we discussed the coordination process with DOS representatives, they agreed coordination was inadequate and stated that they believe that the INS was not always coordinating its travel plans properly. The DOS said that poor coordination has caused significant problems and has contributed to INS escorts' problems in foreign countries. When traveling overseas, representatives of federal agencies need to obtain country clearance from the applicable U.S. embassy or consulate in the country to be visited. The DOS stated that the INS should be submitting a request to the embassy or consulate for country clearance, and INS escorts should wait to receive the country clearance before leaving the United States. The DOS said that the process takes five working days. The DOS told us that when the embassy or consulate receives the requesting telegram, the Regional Security Officer (RSO) will contact the local police authorities regarding the hand-over of a Group 3 alien. In some countries where administrative or security problems are anticipated, the RSO will meet INS officers at the airport. The DOS generally assumes that if the INS requires this assistance it will request it on the initial telegram. The requesting telegram from the INS should also specify any additional needs, such as a translator.
The Criminal Liaison Branch of the DOS is responsible for conducting liaison with all U.S. law enforcement agencies conducting overseas activities. In relation to INS escort duties, the Branch assists the INS by coordinating with the RSOs at the U.S. embassies and consulates that do not have an INS representative.
Officials from the DOS described numerous problems relating to the INS's escort practices that have resulted in angry calls from foreign governments and U.S. ambassadors. Examples of the types of problems described by the DOS include:
The DOS also said that the INS was not notifying consulates or embassies in transiting countries of travel arrangements, not obtaining new country clearances when itineraries changed, sending duplicate requests, and not submitting the correct request form to the DOS.
In an attempt to resolve coordination problems, DOS officials met with INS headquarters staff in the summer of 1999 to discuss the possibility of the INS detailing someone to the DOS to handle foreign escort travel issues. The DOS agreed to provide office space, access to its computer system, supplies, and equipment if the INS would provide the employee to coordinate escort issues. The DOS said that the INS was initially receptive to this concept, but no further progress has been made.
We discussed these DOS issues with INS headquarters officials who said they were aware of the problems. The INS told us that they were convening an internal meeting to discuss these issues.
Conclusion and Recommendation
We conclude that the INS and the DOS are having significant coordination problems, which results in placing INS officers at risk. We recommend that the INS Commissioner: