- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service costs taxpayers millions of dollars annually because of its inability to identify and deport illegal immigrants being held in federal, state and local prisons, a Justice Department audit said yesterday.
The audit, by the department's Office of the Inspector General, said the INS "has not effectively managed" the Institutional Removal Program (IRP), which was created in 1988 as an effort to deport criminal aliens as soon as they served their prison terms.
The agency has not even determined the nationwide population of foreign-born inmates, the audit said.
Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said the INS is not able to identify and process deportable inmates and that several illegal immigrants improperly released have gone on to commit additional crimes. He said INS interviews of foreign-born inmates to determine their deportability were "minimal to nonexistent," particularly at the county level.
"We found that many potentially deportable foreign-born inmates passed through county jails virtually undetected," he said.
Chronic vacancies involving INS immigration agents have hampered agency efforts to identify criminal inmates, the audit said, noting that INS employees assigned to the removal program are often reassigned at the district management's discretion to any one of several competing priorities, such as employer sanctions, anti-smuggling and fraud.
In not processing removal program cases efficiently, the audit said, INS was forced to detain criminal aliens released from correctional facilities after they had completed their sentences until deportation proceedings could be completed.
In a sample of 151 cases involving criminal aliens in INS custody, the audit identified $2.3 million in detention costs related to the removal program, including $1.1 million attributable to failures in the program's process mainly untimely requests for travel documents and not initiating hearings at an early date.
"The costs associated with breakdowns in the IRP process are significant," Mr. Fine said, adding that total detention costs "could run staggeringly high," given that the average daily population for criminal aliens in INS custody last year was more than 10,000.
The audit said an effectively operating removal program would preclude the need for INS detention of many of the criminal aliens who face deportation after their sentences. Because the cost of holding removal program inmates in INS detention could run as high as $200 million annually, the audit said the INS could save millions of dollars in detention costs if it ran the program more effectively.
"The INS has not been able to keep pace with the increases in the IRP workload resulting from sweeping changes in immigration law," Mr. Fine said. "Despite the foreseeable impact of the legislation, we found little evidence to indicate that management had taken steps to address the increased workload, particularly at the county level."
Of the 71,063 criminal aliens the INS deported last year, 30,002 were removed through the removal program.
The audit said that last year the INS also did not interview and identify 19 percent of the foreign-born inmates at state prisons in California, and that that portion was continuing to grow, with backlogs of foreign-born inmates requiring interviews increasing.
"The declining coverage at the state prisons is due, in part, to the fact that California has done little to help INS streamline the IRP process beyond initial program enhancements implemented in 1995," the audit said. "As a result, INS agents must maintain an active presence at 11 intake facilities dispersed throughout the state over an area roughly 120,000 square miles in size.
"In contrast, Texas funnels all foreign-born inmates through one intake facility," the audit said.
The audit recommended several changes in the removal program, including a determination by the agency on what resources it must more fully implement into the program and an effort to seek greater cooperation from state and local governments to process and deport incarcerated criminal aliens.
In a written response, INS Executive Associate Commissioner Johnny N. Williams said the agency has begun accounting the foreign-born prison population nationwide to determine resource requirements, and that it will attempt to strengthen management oversight and control program expenses.
Mr. Williams also said the INS would fill vacancies in the program; hire more detention-enforcement officers; and develop and implement clear, consistent and standard procedures to enhance efficiency and cut detention costs.
The INS, in the midst of a restructuring, has been heavily criticized by Congress and others for a number of management failures during the past several years. Commissioner James Ziglar has announced that he is leaving the agency at the end of the year.
The removal program was designed to bring together lawyers, immigration judges and incarcerated aliens to expedite the deportation process.
There are 97 hearing sites in federal, state and county prisons nationwide, including the District of Columbia. Nearly 80 percent of the nation's known foreign-born inmate population is concentrated in seven states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey and Washington.


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