Immigration Control:

Deporting and Excluding Aliens From the United States

GGD-90-18: Published: Oct 26, 1989. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 1989.

Additional Materials:


Lowell Dodge
(202) 512-8389


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO analyzed: (1) legal and administrative provisions governing the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) release of aliens pending their deportation hearings held by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR); (2) the frequency and conditions under which INS released aliens pending hearings and appeals; and (3) the number of aliens who did not appear at hearings and the consequences of their failure to appear.

GAO found that: (1) the government deported an average of 22,000 aliens annually between 1986 and 1988, although millions of aliens illegally entered the United States every year; (2) INS typically released apprehended illegal aliens on bond or on their own recognizance pending their deportation hearings; (3) about 27 percent of apprehended aliens failed to appear for their deportation hearings in New York and Los Angeles; (4) EOIR immigration judges typically closed the cases of aliens who did not appear for hearings, citing their reluctance to hold hearings in absentia because INS may not have properly notified aliens about hearing dates, times, and locations; (5) INS notified aliens by letter of hearing times and places, but did not verify the addresses aliens gave them; (6) aliens who were reapprehended after failing to appear at hearings could still apply for relief from deportation; (7) aliens who failed to appear at hearings delayed the deportation process and actually increased their ability to meet such provisions for relief from deportation as residing in the United States for 7 years, establishing community roots, undertaking positive and beneficial activities, and establishing a family; (8) INS lacked adequate funding to apprehend most illegal aliens, detain those it apprehended, pursue those who did not appear at hearings, and ensure their removal when ordered to depart; and (9) INS emphasized identifying and removing aliens who committed crimes for which they could be deported and assigned low priority to apprehending aliens whose only crime was being in the United States illegally.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1990. The act included two other recommendations GAO made, but did not take any action on this recommendation. Therefore, the likelihood of action on this recommendation is very remote.

    Matter: Since the length of time aliens have spent in the country, which can be used to support their claims for relief, continues to build even after the hearing process has started, Congress should amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to preclude aliens from accumulating time toward relief from deportation after INS has served them with an order to show cause.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Legislation has been passed implementing the substance of this recommendation. The Immigration Act of 1990 resulted in GAO taking an accomplishment report.

    Matter: Since, under existing laws, aliens who have entered the country illegally or violated the conditions of their legal entry can claim relief from deportation, Congress should amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to preclude aliens who fail to appear at a scheduled hearing for which they received proper notification from using the act's existing relief provisions. While aliens would be allowed on motion to reopen their cases, the motion would be limited to explaining the reasons for their failure to appear. Such a change should consider the political situation in the aliens' countries of origin so that they would not be deported into a life-threatening situation.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Immigration Act of 1990 implemented the recommendation that GAO made to the Attorney General.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the Commissioner, INS, and the Director, EOIR, to jointly develop procedures to improve the notification process. The procedures should include instructions for INS to: (1) use when aliens are apprehended and given an order to show cause why they should not be deported; and (2) schedule dates for deportation hearings. In developing the instructions, INS and EOIR should consider providing aliens printed requirements, and reading the requirements to them, in their native languages, of: (1) their obligations to report for their deportation hearings as directed and to notify INS of any change of residence; and (2) the possible consequences, such as being ordered deported in absentia, of their failure to appear. INS should also require the alien to sign a form that shows that this information, including their rights and responsibilities, was discussed with and explained to them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Immigration Act of 1990 revised alien notification procedures by creating a central address file.

    Recommendation: In connection with improving notification procedures, the Attorney General should direct INS and EOIR to develop a better means by which INS can inform aliens of their hearing date and location when apprehended.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Immigration Act limits judicial discretion to administratively close cases when aliens fail to appear and empowers immigration judges to deport these aliens in absentia.

    Recommendation: The Attorney General should direct the Commissioner, INS, to: (1) monitor the effect of implementing GAO recommendations; and (2) if the results show that immigration judges are reluctant to rule on such cases, develop procedures, with EOIR input, covering the circumstances for which aliens' requests to have the locations of their deportation hearings changed would be approved or denied. Such circumstances could include: (1) the basis for the aliens' requests; (2) the use of addresses, which INS can verify; and (3) humanitarian concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Oct 26, 2020

Sep 30, 2020

Sep 10, 2020

Sep 8, 2020

Aug 13, 2020

Jul 29, 2020

Jul 8, 2020

Jun 22, 2020

May 26, 2020

May 12, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here