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Report: foreigners with criminal records slipped past immigration officials
By KAREN GULLO The Associated Press 11/6/01 7:57 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Immigration officials do little to track down foreigners with criminal histories who skip required follow-up interviews after entering the United States, government auditors disclosed Tuesday.
One criminal who failed to show up for a mandatory inspection interviews after coming through a U.S. airport was later convicted of raping a child, the Justice Department inspector general reported.
The internal report faulted Immigration and Naturalization Service officials for failing to locate questionable foreigners who skipped the interviews.
"We found that the INS took little or no follow-up action on the no-shows" which "created an environment where individuals who do not appear for their inspection do so with virtual impunity," the report said.
The report identified the practice of deferring interviews as another of the holes in the nation's process of screening out criminals and terrorists that have come to light since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The vast majority of the 75 million people who pass through airport inspections are admitted after an initial screening with immigration officials.
Those with immigration problems or criminal backgrounds are turned over to a second inspector who decides whether the foreigner should be turned away or allowed to enter with a chance to clear up problems at a follow-up inspection at an INS district office.
The Bush administration has cracked down on immigration policies since the suicide hijackings. INS officials said Tuesday inspectors are being more careful about deferring interviews.
"We have vigorously informed the field inspectors that they need to be much more circumspect and vigilant in how they apply this policy," INS spokesman Greg Gagne said.
The agency agreed to implement the IG's recommendations to step up the practice of fingerprinting foreigners and retaining travel documents for those with criminal backgrounds admitted pending inspections. Some also will be required to post bond.
IG investigators looked at 725 cases of deferred inspections at nine unidentified airports from July 1998 through August 1999. They found that in 79, or 11 percent, of the cases, foreigners failed to show up.
Foreigners with criminal backgrounds or those whose names are on watch lists are more likely to skip the follow-up interview, the report said, noting that 42 of the 79 no-shows were identified as having criminal records or immigration violations.
Five of the no-shows were arrested and convicted of aggravated felonies after their deferrals. One person was convicted of raping a child; others were busted on drug charges.
Overall, about 1 million foreigners are interviewed by a second inspector and inspections are deferred for 10,000, the report said.
The report said inspectors do not always have up-to-date information on convictions or sentences of foreigners. Sometimes they admit foreigners on the premise that they will later present court records showing how their cases were resolved, the report said.
Officials have previously disclosed that one of the Sept. 11 hijackers underwent such a deferred interview and was permitted into the country.
Mohamed Atta, suspected of hijacking and crashing a jetliner into the World Trade Center, was questioned by a second inspector at the Miami International Airport in January, where he entered the country on a tourist visa.
Atta told airport officials he was coming to the United States for flight training, which would have required a student or vocational education visa. He was allowed in after immigration officials determined his application for a student visa was pending, immigration officials said.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), November 06, 2001