The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Removal of Aliens Issued Final Orders
Report Number I-2003-004
INS Implementation of the 1996 OIG Recommendations
In response to the five recommendations in our 1996 inspection, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) identified specific actions that it would take to correct the deficiencies we reported, and provided evidence to support its planned actions. We accepted the INS's proposed corrective actions as responsive to our recommendations. However, our current review found that the INS's implementation of the corrective actions was delayed or incomplete. Our analysis of the INS's actions in response to each recommendation follows.
Our 1996 report found that the INS did not always send surrender notices to aliens in a timely manner after the final orders were issued. In its response, the INS listed several factors that limited its ability to quickly present surrender notices, but agreed to (1) collaborate with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) to implement an effective final order notification system, (2) contract with the Vera Institute to design, implement, and assess a demonstration project to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of adjudication, release, reporting, and removal of nondetained aliens; and (3) conduct further field tests under which all aliens with final removal orders of deportation, and all alien absconders, were targeted for removal.
Notification System Enhancement. The INS completed the programming necessary to establish an interface between its Deportable Alien Control System (DACS) and EOIR's Automated Nationwide System for Immigration Review (ANSIR) system in 1997. Implementation of the interface was delayed until May 17, 1999. Further, after examining the potential ramifications of integrating the ANSIR and the DACS, the INS concluded on March 29, 2000, that a complete integration of the two systems could compromise the integrity of the DACS and decided not to pursue integration.
In our current review, we found that INS field officers can use the DACS to view (but not modify) downloaded individual records of final orders from ANSIR. Although the interface gives the INS an electronic notice that a final order of removal has been issued, the INS still cannot issue surrender notices to aliens until it receives a copy of the final order.
Vera Institute of Justice Supervised Release Contract. In 1996, the INS contracted with the Vera Institute of Justice to design, implement, and assess a supervised release demonstration project for a sample of 534 asylum seekers, criminal aliens, and undocumented workers. In its August 1, 2000, final report on the Appearance Assistance Program (AAP), the Vera Institute reported that it found regular supervised release to be a viable and statistically significant means for increasing court appearance at a lower cost than detention. The report recommended that the INS establish a supervised release pilot project.
In FY 1999, we conducted a limited scope inspection of the AAP and found contract award, survey design, and program implementation problems.B-34 Our 1999 review recommended that the INS evaluate the Vera Institute's final recommendations, especially the claimed costs and benefits of expanding supervised release to other districts. That recommendation remains valid.
Field Test Pilot Projects. The INS informed us that it conducted a limited duration pilot project at the Philadelphia field office to test the effectiveness of targeting for removal all aliens with final orders and all alien absconders. The INS stated that, based on the positive results of that pilot project, it planned to conduct future field tests at offices of different sizes and population mixes before determining whether or not to expand the program. We attempted to examine the results of these pilot projects as a part of this review, but the INS was unable to provide any information regarding the reported pilot projects.
In 1996, we found that incorrect addresses prevented mailed surrender notices from reaching many aliens, and recommended that the INS deliver the surrender notices to ensure that aliens are properly notified. The INS proposed an alternative action of changing their procedures (which necessitated conducting a rulemaking) to require that aliens be notified of their duty to surrender both in the Notice to Appear, which they are given when first apprehended, as well as at subsequent hearings before Immigration Judges or the Board of Immigration Appeals. The INS's proposal also would bar aliens who did not comply with removal orders from seeking appeals or administrative relief. Providing notice of surrender requirements at each point in the process would prevent aliens from delaying their removal by claiming they were not notified of their duty to surrender.
On September 4, 1998, the INS published proposed rule changes to implement the new procedures. According to the INS, the rulemaking was not considered a priority and was allowed to lapse. Only after the attacks of September 11, 2001, did the INS publish a second supplementary proposed rule, entitled Requiring Aliens Ordered Removed from the United States to Surrender to the Immigration and Naturalization Service for Removal. Published on May 9, 2002, the revised proposed rule broadens notification methods and requires all properly notified aliens to surrender within 30 days. In addition, aliens who fail to comply with this mandate will be barred from applying for administrative relief from removal or from returning legally to the United States for 10 years. The requirements of the proposed rule would apply to all aliens currently in immigration proceedings, as long as they receive the requisite notice. As of January 2003, the proposed rule is not final and Recommendation 2 remains open.
Because our 1996 review found that the removal rate for nondetained aliens was extremely low, we recommended that the INS increase the number of aliens it detains after they are given final orders or develop a better strategy for dealing with nondetained aliens. The INS identified several procedural barriers that prevented it from taking more aliens into custody, and proposed that, as an alternative, the OIG could examine its progress of removing aliens. We agreed, and on July 17, 1998, the INS provided us with a copy of its FY 1997 Removals Priority Implementation Plan, which described the INS's removal goals, and the Lead Official's Report of the FY 1997 Year-End Review, which reported the INS exceeded its goal of 93,000 removals in FY 1997 by accomplishing 111,794 removals.
This recommendation resulted from our finding that the INS district offices did not actively pursue nondetained aliens with final removal orders who failed to appear, and that, pursuant to a 1982 policy memorandum, the INS was improperly closing some inactive cases in several categories.B-35 The INS concurred in part with the recommendation and committed to: 1) use an FY 1996 budget enhancement of $11.2 million to fund 142 positions to locate and remove alien absconders who have been ordered deported; 2) revisit and if necessary update its policy and priorities with regard to closing inactive cases; and 3) initiate specific enforcement actions on absconders.
To review the INS's action, we attempted to examine how the INS used the FY 1996 budget enhancement of $11.2 million to create absconder removal teams. The INS was unable to document how the funding was used or that any absconder teams were created or deployed.
Regarding the directive on policy-closures, in November 1996, the INS stated that cases with no leads after extended periods of time were unlikely to result in locating the aliens, and decided not to revise the policy on closing cases of aliens who fail to appear. The INS guidelines allow policy-closure after varying periods in four categories of cases. Also, even though cases may be closed, the INS can reopen them if new information or leads are found. We accepted the INS's position, and closed Recommendation 4 on March 20, 1997.
In our current review, we found that the INS improperly policy-closed 21 of the cases in our sample of 308 nondetained aliens (7 percent), and 24 of the cases in our sample of 470 nondetained aliens from state sponsors of terrorism (5 percent). None of the 45 policy-closed cases fell into one of the four allowable categories. The INS informed us that, notwithstanding its 1997 response to our prior report, it is updating its policy-closure procedures to ensure that they are more uniformly applied across districts.
In response to this recommendation, the INS reported that it would use an FY 1996 $11.2 million budget enhancement to establish absconder removal teams. The INS also agreed to enter warrants and removal orders into the NCIC; develop an automated list of criminal absconders to circulate within the law enforcement community; and share information on absconders with state Departments of Motor Vehicles, NCIC, the Social Security Administration, and the Internal Revenue Service.
However, in October 1996, the INS reported that, with the exception of NCIC, it was not feasible to use external agency databases to perform name searches for alien absconders. The INS proposed to continue entering alien absconders into the NCIC; use the absconder removal teams to experiment with ways to locate absconders; and use a computer user group to conduct a comprehensive review of how the INS integrates its systems with Federal, state, and local systems. Our current review found that, prior to September 11, 2001, the INS did not establish absconder removal teams, enter names of absconders into the NCIC, or develop an automated list of criminal absconders for circulation within the law enforcement community.