|Justice teams unable to find nearly 2,000 immigrants
Washington Times 11/22/02: Jerry Seper
Original Link: http://www.washtimes.com/national/20021122-40988.htm
Justice Department investigators could not locate for questioning nearly half of 4,112 aliens in America they believed had information on would-be terrorists, because U.S. immigration officials didn't know where to find them, the General Accounting Office said yesterday.
The GAO said 1,851 aliens could not be found by anti-terrorism investigators because the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service lacked current or reliable address information, according to a report to Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on immigration.
INS made little or no effort to tell aliens they were required to notify the agency of their current address, the GAO said, and there was no INS enforcement of existing penalties for noncompliance. The accounting office said INS "does not appear to have enforced the removal penalty for noncompliance since the early 1970s."
Justice Department anti-terrorism task force coordinated by U.S. attorneys nationwide had wanted to question the 4,112 aliens after the September 11 attacks. Only 2,261 were located, because of a lack of current address information. Some of the aliens were thought to have information that would have assisted in the hunt for terrorists.
"Recent events have shown that INS's alien address information system cannot be relied on to locate aliens," the GAO report said. "Lack of publicity, no enforcement of penalties for not filing change of address notifications, and inadequate processing procedures and controls explain in part why INS's alien address information is unreliable."
The GAO said INS "cannot and does not" enforce compliance penalties, because it is unable to determine whether an alien filed a change-of-address notification. It also said INS lacked adequate procedures to ensure the address information it received was completely processed.
About 35 million immigrants are believed to be living in the United States, each required to submit a change-of-address form when they move. During the past several years, INS has been unable to keep up with the forms, which average about 30,000 a day.
According to the GAO, while the reliability of current address information depended partly on compliance by the aliens with a requirement to notify INS of any change of address, aliens had "little incentive" to follow the rules because there was no enforcement of existing penalties for lack of cooperation.
Because INS made no effort to publicize the change-of-address requirement, the GAO said, many aliens now in the country were unaware of the requirement. When aliens did comply, INS lacked adequate processing procedures and controls to ensure that the information was recorded in the agency's databases.
In April, INS established an address issues task force to review and assess how address information was processed. The task force recommended a multiphased strategy to improve operational efficiency, and the recommendation was approved in September. INS has since taken the first steps toward establishing a centralized address repository.
In a written response to the GAO report, Robert Diegelman, acting assistant attorney general for administration, said INS agreed with the need to publicize alien address requirements and it had begun to do so. But he also said the U.S. attorneys' offices nationwide lacked the time to prosecute minor offenses such as failing to file change-of-address forms.
"If enforcement of the requirement to file a notice of change of address is to be effective, these penalties would need to be substantially increased," Mr. Diegelman wrote. "Only then will a change in operating procedures and referring cases to the United States attorneys be effective."
The INS, which will be shifted from Justice to the new Homeland Security Department, has often been criticized by Congress and the public. A May investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General found serious problems in the agency's ability to track foreign students, noting that an INS computer information program was "riddled with inaccuracies."