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Immigration and Naturalization Service's Deferred Inspections at Airports
Report Number I-2001-29
September 2001


The mission of the INS includes facilitating the entry into the United States of citizens and persons legally admissible as visitors or as immigrants, and preventing the unlawful entry by those who are not entitled to admission. Over 75 million individuals are inspected annually at U.S. airports for potential admission into the United States. In FY 2000, the INS inspections budget was about $500 million, funded primarily through the Immigration User Fee that is assessed on all passengers arriving in the U.S. aboard a commercial aircraft from a foreign location.

Individuals seeking entry into the U.S. are required to pass through a primary inspection where inspectors examine documents, perform immigration and customs database queries, and question travelers. When additional examination is required, individuals are sent to secondary inspection. We estimate that 1 million individuals are referred for secondary inspection annually. If an immediate decision regarding admissibility cannot be made at secondary inspections, INS inspectors have the discretion to defer the inspection. The individual is then paroled into the country and must report to the appropriate INS district office at a later date to complete the inspection. Of those individuals referred to secondary, we estimate that approximately 10,000 inspections were deferred during our 1-year review period. While deferred inspections represent a small percentage of total airport inspections, we found that the INS failed to track these inspections to completion or to penalize individuals who fail to appear.

Our audit assessed whether: (1) the deferred inspection process could be improved, (2) management controls and oversight were adequate, (3) inspectors followed established deferral procedures for granting and completing deferred inspections, and (4) inspectors took appropriate follow-up action when individuals did not show up for deferred inspections. To achieve these objectives we reviewed applicable laws and regulations, manuals and memoranda; interviewed responsible INS personnel; and tested INS practices by examining a statistical sample of 725 deferred inspection cases. Our analysis of the statistical sample involved a review of nine U.S. airports and their related district offices. The deferrals issued at the nine airports reviewed represented 70 percent (7,443 of 10,665) of all deferrals granted during our review period.

We found that nearly 11 percent (79 of 725) of individuals paroled into the country under the deferred inspections process failed to appear for the completion of their inspection. When projected to the universe of 7,443 deferrals, at least 652 and as many as 979 individuals did not appear for their deferred inspections. This is a conservative estimate, however, based on the fact that we were unable to determine the outcome of 20 percent (146 of 725) of the cases selected due to inadequate record keeping on the part of the INS. When projected to the universe of 7,443 deferrals, at least 1,311 and as many as 1,724 individual's records were not available to enable a determination on whether the individual appeared for his or her deferred inspection.1

We found that adequate procedures were not in place to ensure that individuals who fail to appear are either brought in to complete their inspection or are appropriately penalized for failing to do so. Absent any clear procedural guidance, inspectors were largely left to their own discretion to determine appropriate actions when individuals failed to appear. The actions, when taken, failed to yield significant results. More often, however, no follow-up activity of any kind was initiated. The importance of follow-up action is evidenced by the results of our analysis, which revealed that among those who failed to appear, INS inspectors identified over 50 percent (42 of 79) as either having criminal records or immigration violations at the time of entry. Subsequent inquiries into criminal history databases revealed that nine of these individuals were either charged or convicted of crimes considered to be aggravated felonies after their deferral, making them subject to possible removal or deportation.2

We also found that controls were not adequate to determine the effectiveness of the deferred inspection process or, at the most basic level, the number of individuals deferred and the outcome of those inspections. We found that records maintained at airports and district offices were incomplete. Inspectors at all nine airports we visited destroyed deferral documentation after limited and varied retention periods. The paper-based tracking of deferred inspections was cumbersome and problematic in that it failed to provide an adequate service-wide system of tracking deferrals. As a result, inspectors were unable to detect parole violators and other repeat offenders upon their reentry into the United States.

Finally, we found that the INS has database systems capable of capturing and reporting the occurrences and outcomes of deferred inspections, but does not fully utilize them. Currently, the INS only collects and disseminates information regarding the number of inspections deferred, not the outcome of the inspections or whether the inspections even took place. Furthermore, the data on deferrals may be understated because 36 percent of deferred inspections in our sample were not entered into the database system used in generating reports. As a result, INS management relied on deferred inspection reports that were incomplete and inaccurate. Despite the lack of accurate data, the INS continues to publish deferred inspection data annually in the Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and INS management continues to rely on this inaccurate and incomplete data for program-related decision making and in budgeting for appropriated and user fee resources.

Our audit objectives, scope, and methodology appear in Appendix I. The details of our work are contained in the Findings and Recommendations section.


  1. The projections of our statistical sample are based upon a 95 percent confidence level. See Appendix III for the details of our statistical sampling model.

  2. Title 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43) defines aggravated felonies to include the following offenses: murder, rape, child pornography, narcotics trafficking, firearms trafficking, non-political crimes of violence (for which sentences of one year or more of incarceration are imposed, certain felonies (such as theft and burglary), and other qualified misdemeanors.