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INS Freed Violent Criminals, Wasted $77 Million

by Samuel J. Scott

on INS deportation issues
(AR) BOSTON -- The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has unknowingly released thousands of criminal aliens -- some of them violent -- and wasted $77 million housing others over two years because it is hugely inefficient, a recently released Government Accounting Office (GAO) study says.

The watchdog agency charged in an Oct. 16 report to Congress that the agency does not have files on half of its criminal aliens and thereby mistakenly releases many into communities.

"Criminal aliens are being released into U.S. communities without the INS first determining whether they posed a risk to public safety. The INS does not identify all potentially deportable criminal aliens who are in prisons ... we found that there were about 2000 criminal aliens who were being released from prisons into communities that essentially the INS did not know about," GAO Assistant Director Dr. Evi Rezmovic, who oversaw the report, said.

1996 law has forced the INS to needlessly deport many aliens
Suffering from a larger number of criminal aliens to deport, the INS has reportedly kept fewer records on them. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 expanded the definition of "aggravated felon" -- those whom the INS must deport -- so the INS must deal with more cases. With a larger workload, it may process criminal aliens more slowly.

The INS reportedly did not know that some of the released prisoners were violent felons because, according to the GAO report, the INS did not have files on or did not complete legal procedures for about half of jailed aliens.

Laurie Kozuba, the Director of Citizens and Immigrants for Equal Justice, believes that the 1996 law has forced the INS to needlessly deport many aliens, causing the inefficiency.

"The law targeted specific aggravated crimes like murder, rape and child molestation but it also included crimes [where] an individual is convicted [and given] a year or more probation, [which now] is also defined as an aggravated felony, whether it is a minor offense or not, so now those people are deportable under the law. Any transgression that was a non-deportable offense before is now a deportable offense, and the individual can be put into [deportation] proceedings regardless of whether it is a settled matter or not," she said.

Kozuba expressed dismay that the 1996 law has been applied retroactively. Crimes which would not have resulted in deportation when the aliens committed them are now cause for deportation.

"The 1996 law is unfair, it's extreme. It's too extreme. Nobody advocates allowing murders to escape deportation, but we do advocate ... [that the INS] not apply laws retroactively, when it is going to destroy American families," she said.

Rezmovic also said, however, that the INS has improved little since 1995, before Congress had even passed the 1996 law.

"Since 1995, the progress that the INS has made has been very limited. We find that they haven't improved very much," she said. The GAO originally filed a report on this issue in 1997, using 1995 data from the INS. But the INS said that the results were invalid because the GAO had used old data. The Oct. 16 report using more recent information, however, produced the same conclusions.

According to the GAO, the INS needs to better identify, through interviews, "potentially deportable criminal aliens" so they are not mistakenly released into communities. To do so, the INS would have to keep better records.

After the criminal aliens serve their jail sentence, the INS must interview them and conduct hearings to find if they are deportable. But with so many to interview, some slip through the cracks. These criminal aliens are then released into communities by the prison system.

If the INS interviews them and it finds that the aliens are deportable, the agency holds them until legal proceedings are complete.

"It would be much more efficient for the INS to identify [deportable aliens] and then finish the whole hearing process while they are in prison. But this is not happening," Rezmovic said.

The GAO also found, however, that the INS holds the aliens for too long, wasting government money for living expenses. Holding the criminal aliens cost an extra $40 million in 1997 and $37 million in 1995. These are amounts which the INS could have avoided, the GAO said.

Both the GAO and the INS say they do not know what happened to the report, which is entitled "INS' Efforts to Remove Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement."

"We were supposed to testify in September, but 24 hours before the testimony it was canceled. The Judiciary Committee was convening to consider impeachment. We, at this point, do not know what the committee is going to do as a result of our report. [The House Immigration and Claims Subcommittee] was very interested and concerned. This is an important priority for Chairman Smith, but he is busy with the impeachment inquiry. The GAO report got put on the back burner for the time being," Rezmovic said.

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Albion Monitor November 16, 1998 (

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