- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Illegal aliens detained under a final court order for removal from the United States are being held instead for long periods of time because of outdated databases and a shortage of federal agents, the Homeland Security Office of Inspector General said yesterday.

In a 60-page report, Inspector General Richard L. Skinner said about 80 percent of the 8,690 aliens held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) between March and June last year with final orders were removed or released within 90 days, but nearly 20 percent were not removed on a timely basis.

Mr. Skinner said ICE did not prioritize cases to ensure that illegal aliens considered dangerous or whose departures were considered in the national interest were removed, adding that their release within the United States was not adequately supervised.

“The weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities in the [post-order custody review] process cannot be easily addressed by ICE’s current oversight efforts, and ICE is not well positioned to oversee the growing detention caseload that will be generated by DHS’s planned enhancements to secure the border,” Mr. Skinner said.

Among the detained aliens examined in the Skinner report — most from Central America, the Caribbean and Asia — about 20 percent of them had been held for more than six months, the length of time that the Supreme Court ruled in 2001 should be considered reasonable.

Despite Mr. Skinner’s findings, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel in Illinois ruled last month in a class-action lawsuit brought by an immigration rights organization that ICE had made “a reasonable and appropriate effort to comply” with the Supreme Court ruling regarding a timely removal process, saying the agency had sought to comply with the law.

“For mistakes and failures, which will inevitably occur in a certain number of cases, the law provides an adequate remedy by use for a writ of habeas corpus,” Judge Zagel said, adding that there was no evidence “of an error rate by ICE that exceeds the error rate of American trial judges as calculated by appellate reversals.”

The lawsuit had accused the government of failing to put into place a procedure for properly determining the likelihood of a person’s removal from the United States. Judge Zagel denied the challenge, saying no specific wrongful injury had been shown as a result of the conduct challenged. He said proof that government processes could be improved, even substantially, did not make the case.

ICE spokesman Marc Raimonde said the agency “appreciates the work [the Office of Inspector General] has done to monitor and promote our compliance with legal requirements limiting the duration of detention for aliens ordered removed from the United States,” adding that ICE works aggressively to remove aliens after a final order is entered.

“When such removal appears unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future, such as in cases where an uncooperative foreign government refuses to issue the necessary travel documentation, ICE releases aliens ordered removed when it is legally required to do so, albeit under conditions of supervision calculated to ensure that they can be located for removal in the future,” he said.

“Indeed, as the [inspector general’s] report found, the vast majority of aliens ordered removed are, in fact, removed or, where legally required, released by ICE in a timely fashion,” he said.

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