Criminal Aliens:

INS' Efforts to Identify and Remove Imprisoned Aliens Continue to Need Improvement

T-GGD-99-47: Published: Feb 25, 1999. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) efforts to initiate and complete removal proceedings for criminal aliens in state and federal prisons through its Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

GAO noted that: (1) the IHP is a cooperative program involving the INS, the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and federal and state correctional agencies; (2) it was formally established in 1988 to enable INS and EOIR to complete removal proceedings for criminal aliens while they were still serving their sentences, thus eliminating the need for INS agents to locate aliens after their release, and freeing up INS detention space for other cases; (3) with the proceedings complete, expeditious removal of criminal aliens upon completion of their sentences can occur; (4) federal law requires the Attorney General to initiate and, to the extent possible, complete removal proceedings for aggravated felons before their release from incarceration; (5) INS has been delegated the authority to enforce immigration laws; (6) in 1997, GAO reported that INS needed to improve its efforts to identify potentially deportable criminal aliens in federal and state prisons and complete the IHP for the aliens before they were released; (7) this conclusion is based on GAO's analysis of data provided by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and five states on foreign-born inmates who were released from prison between April and September, 1995; (8) INS' Executive Associate Commissioner for Programs told the House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration and claims that INS had improved program operations since 1995; (9) in response, the Subcommittee asked GAO to review program performance during 1997; (10) although GAO's results indicated that INS' performance had shown some improvement, GAO continues to have the same concerns about the IHP; (11) in 1997, INS still had not identified many potentially deportable aliens while they were in prison; (12) the majority of these released criminal aliens were aggravated felons, some of whom were reconvicted for new felonies; (13) INS completed the IHP for about half of the released criminal aliens it identified as potentially deportable while they were in prison; (14) because INS had to detain aliens who did not complete the hearing process in prison, INS incurred approximately $40 million in avoidable detention costs; and (15) in addition, INS had not fully implemented the recommendations GAO made in the 1997 report to improve the IHP.

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