Illegal Aliens:

Changes in the Process of Denying Aliens Entry Into the United States

GGD-98-81: Published: Mar 31, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 31, 1998.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, focusing on: (1) how the expedited removal process and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) procedures to implement it are different from the process and procedures used to exclude aliens before the act; (2) the implementation and results of the process for making credible fear determinations during the 7 months following April 1, 1997; and (3) the mechanisms that INS established to monitor expedited removals and credible fear determinations and to further improve these processes.

GAO noted that: (1) two major differences between the exclusion process used before the act and its expedited removal process are INS inspectors' authority to issue the expedited removal order and the aliens' limited right of review of that order; (2) other changes included an increased penalty for inadmissible aliens, including those subject to expedited removal, and a more structured inspection process for expedited removal than for exclusion; (3) at the five locations GAO visited, INS estimated that the amount of time it took inspectors to complete the expedited removal process was greater than the amount of time used to complete the steps required of INS inspectors in the previous exclusion process; (4) this increased time by INS inspectors could be offset by reductions in time by immigration judges who no longer make these decisions; (5) during the first 7 months that the expedited removal process was in place, 29,170 aliens attempted to enter the country and were placed in expedited removal; (6) INS inspectors referred 1,396 of these aliens to asylum officers for credible fear interviews; (7) as of December 1997, almost all of the approximately 27,800 remaining aliens had been removed from the United States; (8) at the five locations it visited, GAO reviewed documentation in randomly selected case files of aliens subject to expedited removal; (9) the results of this review showed that between an estimated 80 percent and 100 percent of the time INS inspectors and supervisors documented that they followed certain INS procedures; (10) these documented procedures included activities such as supervisors' review of inspectors' removal orders and inspectors' asking aliens specific questions about their fear of being returned to their home country or country of last residence; (11) of the 1,396 aliens referred to asylum officers for credible fear determinations, asylum officers completed interviews with 1,108 and found that 79 percent had a credible fear; (12) immigration judges received 198 cases to review asylum officers' negative credible fear determinations between April 1 and October 31, 1997; (13) the judges affirmed the asylum officers' determinations in 83 percent of these cases; (14) INS has developed or is in the process of developing mechanisms to monitor the expedited removal procedures, including the credible fear determinations; and (15) INS has made changes to its processes on the basis of concerns raised by these internal reviewers and outside organizations.

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