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Michael R. Bromwich
Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice
Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims
U.S. House of Representatives
Allegations of Deception
of Congressional Task Force
September 12, 1996
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Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee:
I am here to testify today about the investigation conducted by my office into allegations that INS officials deceived a delegation of the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform when it made a fact-finding visit to the Miami District of INS on June 10, 1995.
As you know, within a month of the June 10, 1995, Congressional Task Force Delegation's visit to the Miami District of INS, Congressman Gallegly received a letter of complaint signed by 47 INS employees alleging that the Delegation was deceived during the visit. The employees alleged that the deception occurred at the two INS installations visited by the Delegation -- the Krome Service Processing Center, located 23 miles southwest of downtown Miami, and the Miami International Airport. Of the allegations made in the letter concerning Krome, we concluded at the end of the investigation that the most serious two allegations were substantially correct. Those allegations were:
I will describe our more detailed findings on the Krome-related allegations shortly.
Of the allegations made concerning deceptive conduct at Miami International Airport, we found several of the serious allegations to be substantially correct. Those allegations were:
In addition to confirming these allegations of intentional deception at the airport,we uncovered a further piece of deception that in my judgment was the worst of all. We learned that a senior INS manager instructed a group of INS employees that if they were asked a question by any member of the delegation whether anyone other than criminal aliens were held in the cells in the area known as "hard secondary," they were to respond that only criminal aliens were so held. This constituted not merely a license to lie but an order to lie. When the delegation paid its visit to the "hard secondary" area, the anticipated question was in fact asked: who is held in the cells located in hard secondary? As directed, a lower level employee told the lie: only criminal aliens. At least one senior manager heard the lie told and did nothing to correct the deception.
Before I discuss these findings in greater detail, let me describe for you the investigative process by which we gathered the evidence in this matter. Upon receiving the allegations contained in the letter of complaint to Congressman Gallegly, we immediately assembled a team of 4 criminal investigative agents and 3 auditors led by a senior agent, who at that time was the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of my Washington field office, and who has since been named Special Agent in Charge of our Miami Field Office. Subsequently, I was able to obtain the services of a senior Assistant United States Attorney from the Southern District of New York -- the office in which I served in the mid-1980s -- and, as the needs of our investigation dictated, called on the resources of my office's Audit Division. The majority of the special agents assigned to the team were detailed from OIG field offices outside of the Miami District, including New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, McAllen, Texas, Wash ington, D.C.,and San Francisco. The auditors were assigned from Atlanta, Georgia. Agents in the Miami Field Office with particular experience in conducting investigations into allegations of misconduct by INS employees and who were familiar with the Miami District were also assigned to participate in the investigation. By the conclusion of the investigation, 17 criminal investigators and 12 auditors had contributed to this task.
During the course of the investigation, the team interviewed over 450 witnesses, including INS employees and managers, as well as individuals from other agencies and organizations; the team recovered and examined thousands of pages of documents and analyzed thousands of computer messages. Unfortunately, the investigative team was substantially hindered, the investigation significantly delayed, and additional resources spent because numerous INS management officials refused to cooperate with and some obstructed the investigation.
As a matter of investigative strategy, the investigative team focussed on three issues: (1) What was the normal situation at Krome and the Airport with respect to the allegations raised in the INS employees' letter of complaint? (2) Was there a deviation from this normal pattern on the day the Delegation toured the facilities in Miami? (3) What intent could we attribute to INS managers for differences between what was normal and what occurred on June 10?
The investigators soon realized that determining the "normal" pattern was itself a large investigative task. They found significant discrepancies and omissions existed in the INS record systems, and the investigators were forced to reconstruct and verify the records by hand. I cannot begin to describe how difficult and daunting such atask was. Merely trying to determine the accurate level and movements of the alien detainee population at Krome for March 1995 through June 1995 (about 4700 aliens) occupied seven OIG auditors for approximately 35 work days.
Our analysis of the available records indicated that conditions immediately preceding and on June 10 were not, in fact, "normal." Subsequent witness interviews and examinations of computer records also supported that conclusion and shed light on the motivation for the INS officials' actions. Based upon the extensive evidentiary record, we concluded that senior INS managers at the District and Regional levels did order employees to present Congress with a different and distorted picture of Krome and the Miami Airport than existed in reality.
The principal allegations concerning Krome involved the transfer, temporary movement, and release of almost 40% of the detainee population. We determined that approximately 101 detainees out of a total population of about 407 aliens were moved within 24 hours of the Delegation's visit and that the movements were motivated by the imminence of that visit. We identified another 36 detainees who were moved out of Krome to a county jail in Key West but concluded that this movement did not appear to have been motivated by the Congressional visit.
Immediately before the Delegation's visit, Krome was overcrowded with more than 400 aliens. Two nights before the visit, about 55 female detainees slept on temporary cots in the lobby area of Krome's medical clinic. The evidence showed thatsenior District INS officials, in particular, Miami District Deputy Director Valerie Blake, were concerned that Krome was "out of control" and ordered that Krome's population be reduced before the Congressional visit. The evidence further showed that Blake consulted with senior officials at the Eastern Regional Office, who authorized her actions.
In order to achieve the rapid reduction in detention levels required by INS managers, the Krome staff sent 45 detainees to Tampa and then to the Jackson County Jail about 12 hours before the Delegation was scheduled to tour Krome. Twenty-five of the 45 were subsequently sent to an INS detention facility outside of New Orleans. Although some of these aliens had been previously scheduled for transfer to New Orleans for reasons independent of the Delegation's visit, the transfer was made two days early because of that visit. The accelerated schedule required INS to house the aliens destined for New Orleans in the Jackson County Jail for three nights rather than one night as originally planned and as was normal. The other 20 aliens were detained at the Jackson County Jail for four nights until June 14, when they were returned to Krome. The total cost for moving the 45 aliens out of Krome before the Delegation arrived was $10,267.
Krome managers further reduced the alien population by releasing 58 aliens en masse into the community -- 56 of whom were released within the 24 hours preceding the Delegation's visit. This mass release of mostly women and Cubans was problematic for several reasons. First, managers avoided having the Delegation see a facility overrun with female detainees sleeping in the medical clinic lobby. Second,thirty-five of the 58 released aliens had not been medically cleared before their release from Krome. Third, INS files showed that 4 of the released aliens had criminal records. INS did not know whether or not 17 had criminal histories. One alien had served 5 years for narcotics trafficking and was at Krome following the completion of his prison sentence. When the OIG investigators checked criminal history records for the released aliens, we determined that the records of 5 additional aliens reflected arrests for immigration-related charges although the alien s were apparently not ultimately prosecuted. In addition to these problems, the releases conflicted with stricter release policies directed by INS Headquarters in May 1995.
The evidence clearly established that the movement of aliens to the Jackson County Jail and the release of aliens into the community were motivated by the Delegation's visit. In particular, the OIG investigators uncovered electronic communications between Kathy Weiss, the Krome Camp Administrator, and Valerie Blake, which stated that aliens would be moved "out of sight for cosmetic purposes." Additional evidence established that other senior INS officials, including District Director Walter Cadman, Deputy Regional Commissioner Michael Devine, and Eastern Regional Commissioner Carol Chasse, either ordered the Krome population reduction or knowingly allowed the deception to happen.
With respect to conditions at the Miami Airport, we made several significant findings. First, we determined that staff was brought on and repositioned for theDelegation's visit in order to ensure that inspection lines were short and orderly. The number of inspection booths open on June 10 exceeded by approximately 35% the average number of open booths between January and July of 1995. Consequently, the Delegation saw a different picture from the reality of everyday conditions at primary inspection. Furthermore, overtime was used to pay the additional staff.
Of additional concern was evidence that Pamela Barry, INS Director of Congressional Relations, instructed INS employees not to speak to the Delegation members about certain topics, including the understaffing at the Airport. Evidence also established that those instructions were conveyed by Miami District management, specifically Valerie Blake, to Miami Airport employees.
We also determined that the appearance of the inspection area known as "hard secondary" was altered prior to the Delegation's visit. Hard secondary is used to conduct additional inquiries of aliens who are potentially ineligible for admission to the United States, some of whom are placed in detention cells. Although no written policy existed to determine which aliens were to be placed in the cells, the custom and practice at the Miami Airport was to place in the cells those aliens who had an active arrest warrant, possessed fraudulent documents, had no documents at all, were otherwise deemed dangerous or posed a flight risk. However, prior to the Delegation's visit, senior District managers and supervisors directed Airport personnel to keep the detention cells in hard secondary "clean," meaning to be kept empty. As a result of this order, several aliens were removed from the cells and placed in the hard secondary seating area. At least six aliens who ordinar ily would have been detained incells were sitting unrestrained in the seating area during the Delegation's visit. No member of the Delegation was informed of the identity and status of these persons.
In addition, and more significantly, INS employees were instructed by management officials that, if asked by Delegation members about the type of aliens placed in the hard secondary cells, the employees were to respond that only criminal aliens were placed in the cells, even though management officials knew that answer was false. In fact, as I have described above, an Immigration Inspector, in the presence of at least one senior manager, gave a false answer to the Delegation when asked that question.
Failure to Cooperate
I would like to discuss in additional detail the substantial difficulties the investigators encountered during the course of the investigation as they attempted to conduct interviews with INS management officials and tried to gain access to crucial documents.
First, INS management provided the OIG written responses to the allegations that had originally been prepared for INS Headquarters in response to media inquiries--responses which senior managers later admitted in compelled testimony were materially false.
Second, the INS response to document requests was abysmal. On September 8, 1995, I sent Commissioner Meissner a memorandum requesting that her office provide all records, including computer records and electronic mail, relating to planning and preparations for the Delegation's visit that were maintained by INSHeadquarters and the Eastern Regional Office. About two weeks after INS' response was due, INS Headquarters sent the Commissioner's briefing book and a few innocuous materials from Pam Barry and Public Affairs Specialist Carole Florman; no materials were sent from the Eastern Regional Office. Although substantial investigative effort and resources had to be expended, the OIG eventually found significant documentary evidence at the Eastern Regional Office, including the critical Weiss and Blake electronic mail messages concerning the "stash[ing] of aliens out of sight for cosmetic purposes." The Headquarters' response did not include numerous documents that the OI G investigators subsequently discovered by sending agents to Headquarters for the purpose of obtaining records, including, for example, notes of a teleconference call to plan the Delegation's visit and in which Commissioner Meissner participated. Additional documents were obtained by OIG investigators at INS Headquarters even after I made a second document request that repeated our initial request to Commissioner Meissner.
As the OIG investigators discovered documentary evidence of the deception, the level of cooperation by INS officials diminished and the tension level increased. Many witnesses became overtly hostile when confronted with documents that suggested the truth of some of the allegations. Ultimately, some senior INS District and Regional managers refused to be interviewed. This caused substantial delay as the OIG was forced to administratively compel some of these witnesses to provide statements. In addition, some senior District and Headquarters officials refused to sign affidavits, despite acknowledging their accuracy. Witnesses who did make statements showed, on occasion, surprising lack of recall. Although witnesses have the right torefuse to provide a statement unless compelled, the witnesses' lack of cooperation in scheduling interviews, their demeanor during the interviews, their inconsistent statements, and their failure to recall was troubling.
Once damaging documentary electronic mail evidence had been located at the Eastern Region, some senior officials became overtly obstructionist. For example, Miami District Director Walter Cadman refused to allow the OIG access to the computer servers that backed up the Miami District's electronic mail. Indeed, even after being informed that INS Headquarters had acknowledged that the Miami District had no basis for refusing access to the electronic mail, Cadman refused to provide access to his or his managers' computers or the servers, unless certain conditions were met, such as providing him with a copy of all documents obtained from the system. Deputy District Director Valerie Blake refused to ensure that INS had stopped purging its computer backup records at the Miami District. Similarly, Assistant District Director for External Affairs George Waldroup provided a diskette containing documents requested during his interview but then refused to provide the password that would a llow OIG investigators to access it. The OIG was forced to bring in computer specialists to reconstruct electronic mail files from the backup files that were eventually obtained from the server. Despite the OIG's efforts to get INS to preserve its records, some e-mail was deleted before the investigators could review it.
Above and beyond the specific refusals to cooperate and acts of obstruction, top managers in the Miami District created an extremely difficult and hostile environment for our investigators. Indeed, some openly challenged its legitimacy, accusing OIG personnel of being engaged in a witch hunt. The Assistant UnitedStates Attorney who conducted many of the most significant interviews in this case advised me that, despite her vast experience investigating criminal cases, she had never worked in such a hostile environment as this one. I was and am offended by this conduct, as I know you have been.
Recommendations Regarding Discipline
That concludes my summary of the principal findings of our investigation. Before closing, let me describe for you the limited role we play in the disciplinary process. Traditionally, criminal investigators who investigate serious criminal or administrative misconduct, whether they be OIG investigators or FBI agents, gather the facts relating to allegations but play no direct role in setting any punishment if the case remains an administrative matter rather than being prosecuted as a criminal case.
Since I have been the Inspector General, I have been asked, by the Attorney General and the Deputy General, to recommend a range of discipline in various cases. We have done so in a number of matters, including as you know, in this matter. It is still the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, it is a function performed by the OIG front office rather than by the line investigators. Our recommendations as to discipline are based on our assessment of the culpability of the individuals. But they are not influenced by any other information about the individual employees who we found to have engaged in misconduct, either to mitigate the proposed sanction because of a sterling previous employment record or to aggravate it if there have been other episodes of misconduct. We do not make the final decisions about what sanctions, if any, are imposed. Because this is a relatively new role for the OIG, we have from timeto time sought advice from others more experienced on personnel ma tters. We did so in this case.
Recommendations Regarding Systemic Reforms
Although it was not the goal of the investigation, we did encounter issues relating to systemic management problems that should be addressed by INS. Most importantly, a strong message should be sent from the Commissioner that failure to cooperate with OIG investigations will not be tolerated and will be severely disciplined. INS senior management must take direct responsibility to ensure that all documents and other relevant information are preserved. No other position is acceptable. The senior officials of INS must be able to get, and to support my office's ability to get, the information necessary to the sound management of this agency.
In addition, I noted in the report that INS record-keeping systems need vast improvement. Written policies concerning the handling of aliens in hard secondary should be formulated. Policies and regulations regarding the release of aliens should be clarified and training given on their implementation.
We found during our 11-month investigation a disturbing sequence of events in which senior INS managers manipulated the matters observed by the delegation to create a false set of impressions. In addressing the issue of motive, one of the seniormanagers was very explicit. She said that if the Delegation saw conditions as they were - serious overcrowding at Krome, understaffing at the Miami Airport, and some overcrowding of the detention cells in hard secondary - the message that the Delegation would take away was not that the Miami District of INS needed more resources but that it was not able to do its job adequately.
Whatever the motives, the actions taken by these INS officials were in my judgment unambiguously wrong. The actions of senior managers encouraged federal employees to engage in deception and dishonesty. Such an environment inevitably results in poor morale, cynicism, and continued dishonesty within the federal workforce. The message must be sent that such misconduct will be discovered and the perpetrators strongly dealt with in order to ensure that such conduct does not recur.
I am ready to answer any questions that you may have.