The Immigration and Naturalization Service's Removal of Aliens Issued Final Orders
Report Number I-2003-004
We conducted the current review to determine whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) had improved its effectiveness at removing nondetained aliens with final orders, and whether the INS took the actions it agreed to in response to the five recommendations we made in our 1996 report.
The scope of this review included all aliens who received final orders of removal from the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) during a 15-month period from October 1, 2000 through December 31, 2001. The EOIR's Office of Information Resource Management provided us with a database of all aliens issued final removal orders. In each case, the aliens either had exhausted their appeals with the EOIR or did not appeal the initial court decision. Each case included 86 data elements pertinent to our report, including the alien's name, file number (A-file number), nationality, date of entrance, custody status, criminal and asylum statuses, court appearance details, and final removal decision.
The original EOIR database had 145,361 cases drawn from the Automated Nationwide System for Immigration Review (ANSIR).10 Although we did not independently assess the reliability of the ANSIR data in this review, we did omit 2,678 duplicate or multiple cases.11 In addition, we omitted 1,768 cases that were under appeal with the Office of Immigration Litigation because the INS cannot execute a final order of removal while it is under appeal. To maintain comparability with our 1996 sample, we did not remove cases where Deferred Enforced Departure or Temporary Protected Status might have prevented the INS from carrying out the removal orders.12 Our final database totaled 140,915 cases.
In order to determine if statistical variations based on custody status existed, we divided our final database into three categories: detained, nondetained, and released. We found no significant differences in the data trends for the nondetained and released categories; thus, we consolidated our findings for these two groups into the overall category of nondetained.13 Since the ANSIR does not include information on the execution of final orders, we relied on the INS's Deportable Alien Control System (DACS) to determine the removal status of cases for our samples.
Although we did not independently assess the reliability of the data in the DACS, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) and the INS have found significant problems with the DACS's data reliability. In 1995, the GAO evaluated the completeness and accuracy of criminal alien information in the DACS by comparing electronic files and paper files.14 The GAO found that over 80 percent of the electronic files did not contain all known aliases, 22 percent had name and nationality errors; e.g., misspelled, incorrect order, or incorrect nationalities, and 6 percent did not have a matching paper file. While examining a judgmental sample of paper files, the GAO found that 19 percent did not have a corresponding electronic file in the DACS.
In 2001, the INS Office of Internal Audit (OIA) issued a report entitled Special Data Integrity Review-Alien Removals, which focused on final orders of removal for both criminal and non-criminal aliens in order to asses the adequacy of the process used to collect and report alien removal statistics. The review identified and examined management controls in the data collection process that help ensure full reporting, accurate recording, and timely data entry. The OIA concluded that (1) there was no assurance that all aliens in the removal process are entered in the DACS, (2) final alien removal actions were not always recorded in the DACS, (3) there were inadequate controls related to the accuracy of the DACS data, (4) there were insufficient controls to ensure timely data entry, and (5) there was insufficient training for the DACS users. The report concluded by stating, "The lack of written standards to ensure the quality of data entered into the DACS and a process that does not lend itself to verification of data places into question the accuracy and completeness of the data." 15
We considered that the delays experienced by the INS in entering case data into the DACS could affect our analysis if the outcomes of the cases not yet entered were materially different from the outcomes of the cases that were entered. However, the evaluations we reviewed did not indicate that the backlogged cases were materially different from those that had already been entered. Despite the problems with the DACS's data reliability found by the GAO and OIA, it is the sole source of case status information for the INS's statistical reports on removals. As long as the DACS's possible data unreliability was disclosed, we concluded that the DACS's data could be used for the purpose of determining the removal status for our samples.
We selected three separate samples from the different categories of aliens for our analyses. From the detained category, we selected a nominal sample of 50 cases to test the removal rates reported in 1996 and 1998. After finding a removal rate of about 92 percent, we decided that conducting a full statistical sample was not necessary. From the nondetained and released categories, we selected a random and statistically valid sample of 308 cases, which allowed us to generalize our findings to the entire population of nondetained aliens with final removal orders. To maintain comparability with sampling done in 1996, we did not remove Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) cases from the sample. Nonetheless, we examined the impact of removing these cases and found it would have had no effect on the removal rate.
We also examined the removal rate for nondetained and released aliens from countries that the U.S. Department of State has identified as sponsors of terrorism. We reviewed these cases because they are a high priority for the Department of Justice.16 From this category, we selected a judgmental sample of 470 nondetained cases. In our selection of nondetained cases, we evaluated data for all of the aliens from Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Iraq; 45 percent of the aliens from Iran; 38 percent of the aliens from Cuba; and 54 percent of the aliens from North Korea.
During our evaluation, we conducted in-person and telephone interviews with personnel from the INS's Detention and Removal Office, the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), Office of Investigations, Office of General Counsel, Absconder Apprehension Initiative Office, Post-Order Custody Review Unit, and Executive Office of Policy and Planning; officials from the EOIR; staff from the Office of Immigration Litigation in the Department of Justice Civil Division; and staff from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. We also used data from the FY 2000 and FY 2001 Statistical Yearbook of Immigration and Naturalization Service, INS budget requests for FY 2000 through FY 2003, internal INS memoranda, a report from the Vera Institute for Justice, GAO reports, the EOIR Statistical Yearbook for FY 2000 and FY 2001, and transcripts of Congressional testimony by INS officials. Finally, we reviewed the laws and regulations applicable to the INS's apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens with final removal orders.