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


The mission of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (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. The INS spends about $500 million annually for its inspections program, funded primarily through the Inspections User Fee that is assessed on all passengers arriving in the U.S. aboard a commercial aircraft from a foreign location. According to the INS, over 75 million individuals are inspected at U.S. airports annually.

The inspection process at airports is a two-tiered system, with varying levels of inquiry.

  • Primary inspectors determine identity, nationality, and admissibility of persons seeking entry to the U.S. by examining pertinent documents and performing database queries. 3 If the primary inspector determines that a more in-depth examination is required, the individual is referred to a secondary inspector. We estimate that 1 million individuals are referred for secondary inspection annually.

  • Secondary inspectors have the authority to search without warrant the person and effects of anyone seeking admission when there is reason to believe that grounds for removal exist. Secondary inspectors can also access INS and other databases to aid in their determination of admissible persons. If an immediate decision regarding admissibility cannot be made based on the evidence available, secondary inspectors have the discretion to defer the inspection. The individual is then paroled into the country and directed to report to the appropriate INS district office, also referred to as the "onward office," to complete the inspection at a later date. Deferred inspections typically take place within two weeks of the date of deferral. We estimate that approximately 10,000 inspections were deferred during our 1-year review period.

Overview of Deferred Inspections

The INS Inspectors Field Manual (IFM), Chapter 17.1(a) states that:

. . .when an immediate decision concerning admissibility cannot be made at a port-of-entry, the inspecting officer may defer inspection to the office having jurisdiction over the area where the alien will be staying. Often, deferred inspections are necessary in order to review an existing service file or some other documentary evidence essential to clarifying admissibility. Deferral may also be appropriate for adjudicating a waiver for document requirements for immigrants and nonimmigrants under 211(b) or 212(d)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Deferral should always be for a specific purpose, not simply used as a way to transfer a difficult case to another office, and should normally only be used when it appears the case could possibly be resolved in the alien's favor. If an applicant is inadmissible, he or she should be given the opportunity to withdraw or should be processed for removal, not deferred.

Statistical Sample of Deferred Inspections

In order to determine the effectiveness of the deferred inspection process, we examined a statistical sample of 725 inspections. Our review period for the sample covered deferred inspections granted from August 1, 1998 to July 31, 1999. In addition, we examined related cases through January 2001 to determine final disposition of the sample cases.

The statistical sampling universe for our model was defined as INS deferred inspections (sampling units) at nine airports ([redacted]). The defined universe contained 7,443 deferred inspections (sampling units) and represented 70 percent (7,443 of 10,665) of all deferrals granted at 62 airports during the period covered by our audit. Our sample test results were projected only to our defined universe. Our model did not contain the deferred inspections at foreign airports or smaller domestic airports (representing 30 percent of deferred inspections), and we did not project specific results to those airports. The statistical sample test results and projections are presented in Appendix III.


  1. The queries are used to search for alert notices posted in law enforcement databases citing individuals of interest to the INS and/or other law enforcement agencies.

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