Index


Criminal Aliens: INS' Efforts to Identify and Remove Imprisoned Aliens
Continue to Need Improvement (Testimony, 02/25/99, GAO/T-GGD-99-47).

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Immigration and
Naturalization Service's (INS) efforts to initiate and complete removal
proceedings for criminal aliens in state and federal prisons through its
Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

GAO noted that: (1) the IHP is a cooperative program involving the INS,
the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and federal and state
correctional agencies; (2) it was formally established in 1988 to enable
INS and EOIR to complete removal proceedings for criminal aliens while
they were still serving their sentences, thus eliminating the need for
INS agents to locate aliens after their release, and freeing up INS
detention space for other cases; (3) with the proceedings complete,
expeditious removal of criminal aliens upon completion of their
sentences can occur; (4) federal law requires the Attorney General to
initiate and, to the extent possible, complete removal proceedings for
aggravated felons before their release from incarceration; (5) INS has
been delegated the authority to enforce immigration laws; (6) in 1997,
GAO reported that INS needed to improve its efforts to identify
potentially deportable criminal aliens in federal and state prisons and
complete the IHP for the aliens before they were released; (7) this
conclusion is based on GAO's analysis of data provided by the Federal
Bureau of Prisons and five states on foreign-born inmates who were
released from prison between April and September, 1995; (8) INS'
Executive Associate Commissioner for Programs told the House Committee
on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and claims that INS had
improved program operations since 1995; (9) in response, the
Subcommittee asked GAO to review program performance during 1997; (10)
although GAO's results indicated that INS' performance had shown some
improvement, GAO continues to have the same concerns about the IHP; (11)
in 1997, INS still had not identified many potentially deportable aliens
while they were in prison; (12) the majority of these released criminal
aliens were aggravated felons, some of whom were reconvicted for new
felonies; (13) INS completed the IHP for about half of the released
criminal aliens it identified as potentially deportable while they were
in prison; (14) because INS had to detain aliens who did not complete
the hearing process in prison, INS incurred approximately $40 million in
avoidable detention costs; and (15) in addition, INS had not fully
implemented the recommendations GAO made in the 1997 report to improve
the IHP.

--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------

 REPORTNUM:  T-GGD-99-47
     TITLE:  Criminal Aliens: INS' Efforts to Identify and Remove 
             Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement
      DATE:  02/25/99
   SUBJECT:  Immigration or emigration
             Aliens
             Criminals
             Deportation
             Hearings
             Immigration information systems
             Prisoners
             Crimes or offenses
IDENTIFIER:  INS Institutional Hearing Program
             
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gg99047t CRIMINAL ALIENS INS' Efforts to Identify and Remove
Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement

Statement of Norman J. Rabkin, Director Administration of Justice
Issues General Government Division

United States General Accounting Office

GAO Testimony Before the Immigration and Claims Subcommittee

Committee on the Judiciary House of Representatives

For Release on Delivery Expected at 9: 30 a. m. EST February 25,
1999




GAO/T-GGD-99-47

  GAO/T-GGD-99-47

Statement

Page 1 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: I am pleased to be
here today to discuss the Immigration and Naturalization Service's
(INS) efforts to initiate and complete removal proceedings 1 for
criminal aliens in state and federal prisons through its
Institutional Hearing Program (IHP). 2 The IHP is a cooperative
program involving the INS, the Executive Office of Immigration
Review (EOIR), and federal and state correctional agencies. It was
formally established in 1988 to enable INS and EOIR to complete
removal proceedings for criminal aliens while they were still
serving their sentences, thus eliminating the need for INS agents
to locate the aliens after their release, and freeing up INS
detention space for other cases. With the proceedings complete,
expeditious removal of criminal aliens upon completion of their
sentences can occur. Federal law requires the Attorney General to
initiate and, to the extent possible, complete removal proceedings
for aggravated felons before their release from incarceration. INS
has been delegated the authority to enforce the immigration laws.

In 1997, we reported to this Subcommittee that the Immigration and
Naturalization Service (INS) needed to improve its efforts to
identify potentially deportable criminal aliens in federal and
state prisons and complete the IHP for these aliens before they
were released. 3 We based this conclusion on our analysis of data
provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and five states 4
on foreign- born inmates who were released from their prison
systems between April and September, 1995.

INS' Executive Associate Commissioner for Programs told the
Subcommittee that INS had improved program operations since 1995.
In response, the Subcommittee asked us to review program
performance

1 Under revised provisions for the removal of aliens established
in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
of 1996, P. L. 104- 208, aliens charged by INS as deportable are
now placed in removal proceedings as opposed to deportation
proceedings. Proceedings initiated before the effective date of
the 1996 Act would be in deportation proceedings. For consistency,
we refer to proceedings as removal hearings or proceedings
throughout this testimony.

2 In June 1998, the IHP was subsumed under a broader program
called the Institutional Removal Program (IRP). The IRP is to
capture data for all removals that originate in an institutional
setting, including the IHP, reinstatements of prior final removal
orders, and administrative removal orders. During the period
covered by our review, the IRP was proposed but not official.
Therefore, this testimony provides information almost exclusively
on IHP performance.

3 Criminal Aliens: INS' Efforts to Identify and Remove Imprisoned
Aliens Need to Be Improved (GAO/TGGD-97-154, July 15, 1997). 4 The
five states were Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and
Texas.

Statement Page 2 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

during 1997. Our report in response to that request 5 was based on
foreignborn inmates released from BOP and four states' prisons
between January and June, 1997. 6

Although our results indicated that INS' performance had shown
some improvement, we continue to have several of the same concerns
about the IHP. In 1997, INS still had not identified many
potentially deportable aliens while they were in prison. The
majority of these released criminal aliens were aggravated felons,
some of whom were reconvicted for new felonies. INS completed the
IHP for about half of the released criminal aliens it identified
as potentially deportable while they were in prison. Because INS
had to detain aliens who did not complete the hearing process in
prison, INS incurred approximately $40 million in avoidable
detention costs. In addition, INS had not fully implemented the
recommendations we made in our 1997 report to improve the IHP.

As was the case when we reported to this Subcommittee in July
1997, we again found that INS had not identified all potentially
deportable imprisoned criminal aliens. As a result, INS did not
fully comply with the legal requirements that it (1) place
criminal aliens who had committed aggravated felonies in removal
proceedings while they are incarcerated or (2) take those
aggravated felons into custody upon their release from prison.

In 1995, INS' database of deportable aliens did not have records
on about 34 percent (5,884 of 17,320) of the released inmates
included in our analysis who had been identified by the states and
BOP as foreign born. About 32 percent of these (1,899) were
subsequently determined by INS' Law Enforcement Support Center
(LESC) to be potentially deportable criminal aliens.

In 1997, INS had no records on 36 percent of such aliens (7,144 of
19,639), of whom 27 percent (1,903) were determined by LESC to be
potentially deportable criminal aliens. Although some of these
inmates were citizens and some were ordered removed through means
other than IHP, a substantial number were aliens on whom INS did
not have records.

5 Criminal Aliens: INS' Efforts to Remove Imprisoned Aliens
Continue to Need Imp0rovement (GAO/GGD-99-3). 6 We eliminated
Arizona from our current study because the Subcommittee request
letter specified that we focus on BOP and the four selected
states. Arizona accounted for a small number (626 of 17, 320) of
the total cases in our 1995 analysis. INS Still Failed to

Identify All Deportable Criminal Aliens, Including Aggravated
Felons

Statement Page 3 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

In 1995, about 33 percent (635) of these potentially deportable
criminal aliens for whom INS did not have records were aggravated
felons at the time of the analysis, as determined by LESC. In our
analysis of 1997 data, 63 percent (1,198) of the potentially
deportable criminal aliens for whom INS did not have records were
identified by LESC as being aggravated felons. According to INS,
this increase may be due to the additional crimes classified as
aggravated felonies in the 1996 Act. This is important because
federal law requires INS to initiate removal proceedings for
aggravated felons while they are incarcerated and, to the extent
possible, complete deportation proceedings for these felons before
their release from prison.

According to the INS and EOIR databases, none of the 1,903
potentially deportable criminal aliens had been in removal
proceedings while they were in prison or afterward, had been taken
into INS custody, or had been deported. LESC provided information
on the post- release criminal activities of the 1,198 aggravated
felons as follows:

 80 of the 1,198 criminal aliens were rearrested,

 19 of the 80 aliens were charged with committing additional
felonies, and

 15 of the 19 were convicted of the felony charges. We asked LESC
to provide us with information on the nature of the crimes for
which the 80 criminal aliens were rearrested. These included
crimes such as assault, robbery, and drug offenses. The types of
felonies for which the 15 aliens were convicted included crimes
mostly involving drug possession, burglary, theft, and robbery.

Our analysis of data from the first 6 months of 1997 revealed that
12,495 released inmates were, according to INS and EOIR databases,
potentially deportable. 7 We found that about 45 percent of these
inmates were released from prison with a final deportation order
(having completed the IHP), about 3 percent were released from
prison without a deportation order but with INS' having completed
the removal hearing process, and about 36 percent were released
from prison before INS completed the process. For the remaining 15
percent 8 of inmates, there was no indication that hearings were
completed either before or after prison release. In

7 INS' data on the IHP were limited because INS had not identified
all individuals who were foreignborn inmates in the BOP and state
prison systems and did not maintain a database of these
individuals that would enable it to routinely track the IHP status
of all potentially deportable inmates. Therefore, as was the case
in fiscal year 1995, INS could not readily determine where
individuals were in the IHP process, nor could it readily provide
summary information on the number of criminal aliens who had
committed aggravated felonies.

8 Numbers do not sum to 100 percent due to rounding. INS Did Not
Complete

the IHP For About Half of the Released Criminal Aliens, Incurring
Millions in Avoidable Detention Costs

Statement Page 4 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

comparison, our analysis of data for a 6- month period in 1995
revealed that 40 percent of 11,436 potentially deportable released
inmates completed the IHP with a final deportation order, 3
percent completed the IHP with no deportation order, and 41
percent were released from prison before INS completed the
process. There was no evidence of hearings being completed for the
remaining 16 percent.

Not completing removal proceedings during incarceration means that
INS has to use its limited detention space to house released
criminal aliens rather than using the space to detain other
aliens. INS has acknowledged that it incurs detention costs for
housing these aliens; costs that our analyses showed could be
avoided. Our analysis of fiscal year 1995 data showed that
detention costs of about $37 million could have been avoided for
criminal aliens who completed the hearing process after prison
release and were deported within 9 months of release. Our analysis
of fiscal year 1997 data showed that INS could have avoided over
$40 million in detention costs for such cases. At least some of
the savings in detention costs that INS could realize by
processing more criminal aliens through the IHP would be offset by
any additional funding that might be required to provide
additional resources for the IHP.

At the 1997 hearing, the Chairman urged INS to fully implement
GAO's recommendations for improving the IHP. As of July 1998, INS
had made limited progress in doing so.

We stated in our July 1997 testimony that INS needed better
information about prison inmates-- more specifically, information
about which inmates are eligible for the IHP and which of these
inmates have been and have not been included in the program. Our
work at that time showed that INS' databases did not contain
complete and current information on the IHP status of individual
foreign- born inmates at any given point in time. INS could use
this information to determine which of the released foreign- born
inmates had been screened for the IHP, identified as deportable,
or placed in the hearing process. We recommended that the
Commissioner of INS establish a nationwide data system containing
the universe of foreign- born inmates reported to INS by BOP and
the state departments of corrections and use this system to track
the IHP status of each inmate. As of September 1998, INS had begun
to establish an automated system for tracking potentially
deportable criminal aliens in BOP facilities, but it had not
determined whether it will be able to use this system to track
potentially deportable criminal aliens in state prison systems.
INS Has Not Fully

Implemented Our Recommendations

Nationwide Database

Statement Page 5 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

The law requires INS to take certain actions regarding criminal
aliens who have been convicted of aggravated felonies beyond those
actions required for other criminal aliens. As previously
mentioned, INS is required by law to initiate and, to the extent
possible, complete removal proceedings against aggravated felons
while they are incarcerated and to take these felons into custody
upon their release. Our work shows, as it did in July 1997, that
INS had not complied fully with the required provisions of the
law. In 1997, we recommended that the Commissioner of INS give
priority to aliens serving time for aggravated felonies by
establishing controls to ensure that these aliens (1) are
identified from among the universe of foreign- born inmates
provided by BOP and the states, (2) are placed into removal
proceedings while in prison, and (3) are taken into custody upon
their release. By September 1998, INS had not taken specific
actions to ensure that aggravated felons are placed in removal
proceedings while they are incarcerated and then taken into
custody upon their release from prison. In its May 1998
performance review, INS stated that priority is given to aliens
with early release dates as opposed to aggravated felons to ensure
that deportable aliens are not released into the community.

We previously reported to this Subcommittee that INS had
established IHP performance goals without having a systematic
basis for determining the performance results it could accomplish
with various resource levels. We reported that INS had not
developed a uniform method for projecting the resources it would
need-- taking into consideration the level of cooperation from BOP
and the states-- to achieve its overall goal of completing removal
proceedings for every eligible foreign- born inmate before release
from prison. We recommended that the Commissioner of INS (1)
develop a workload analysis model to identify the IHP resources
needed in any period to achieve overall program goals and the
portion of those goals that would be achievable with alternative
levels of resources and (2) use the model to support its IHP
funding and staffing requests. Such a model was to consider
several factors, including the number of foreign- born inmates,
number of prisons that must be visited, number and types of IHP
staff, length of time to process cases, and travel time and costs.
We also reported in our July 1997 testimony that INS had a 30-
percent attrition rate for immigration agents, which was
significantly higher than the 11- percent average attrition rate
for all INS staff. We recommended that the Commissioner identify
the causes of immigration agent attrition and take steps to ensure
that staffing was adequate to achieve IHP program goals. INS
completed a draft workload analysis model in June 1998 that IHP
managers intend to use to determine what resources are needed to
accomplish program goals. INS had not resolved the problem of high
Controls to Ensure That

Proceedings For Aggravated Felons Are Initiated Before Prison
Release

Resource Issues

Statement Page 6 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

attrition among immigration agents, who are considered the
backbone of the IHP.

We reported to this Subcommittee in July 1997 that INS' top
management (1) had not formally communicated to the district
directors how additional staff (e. g., newly hired immigration
agents) should be used in the IHP, (2) did not ensure that
specific operational goals were established for each INS district
director with IHP responsibilities, and (3) did not respond with
specific corrective actions when it became apparent that the
program would not achieve its goals for fiscal year 1996.

Therefore, we recommended that INS establish and effectively
communicate a clear policy on the role of special agents in the
IHP (e. g., whether immigration agents were replacements for or
supplements to special agents). We also said that INS should use a
workload analysis model to set IHP goals for district directors
with IHP responsibilities. Furthermore, we said that if it
appeared that IHP goals would not be met, INS should document
actions taken to correct the problem.

However, our work last year showed that INS had not (1) clarified
whether immigration agents were replacements for or supplements to
special agents in doing IHP work, (2) set IHP goals for district
directors in either fiscal years 1997 or 1998 and for regional
directors in fiscal year 1998, and (3) specifically addressed the
recommendation to document actions taken by the agency when it
appeared that the IHP goals would not be met.

Despite its assertions at last year's hearing, INS generally
showed limited improvement in its IHP performance based on our
analysis of INS' 1997 program performance. This, coupled with INS'
slow response to our recommendations, suggests that INS still does
not know whether it has identified all potentially deportable
criminal aliens in the BOP and state prison systems. More
importantly, INS still is not doing all it should to ensure that
it is initiating removal proceedings for aggravated felons and
taking them into custody upon their release from prison.

We continue to believe that the recommendations we made in our
1997 testimony are valid and that INS should fully implement them
as soon as possible.

Mr. Chairman, this completes my statement. I would be happy to
respond to your questions at this time. Better Management

Oversight Conclusions

Page 7 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

Page 8 GAO/T-GGD-99-47

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