STATEMENT OF BARBARA COMSTOCK, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS,
“The Justice Department believes that the Inspector General report is fully consistent with what courts have ruled over and over -- that our actions are fully within the law and necessary to protect the American people. Our policy is to use all legal tools available to protect innocent Americans from terrorist attacks. We make no apologies for finding every legal way possible to protect the American public from further terrorist attacks.
“The Inspector General report clearly recognizes the Department was operating under the most difficult of circumstances. Under these unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances, the law was scrupulously followed and respected while aggressively protecting innocent Americans from another terrorist attack.
“Those detained were illegal aliens. They were all charged with criminal violations or civil violations of federal immigration law, such as: eluding previous deportation orders; staying past the expiration date on their visas; entering the country illegally without inspection; or, entering the country illegally with invalid immigration documents.
“Detention of illegal aliens is lawful. We detained illegal aliens encountered during the 9/11 terrorist investigation until it was determined they were not involved in terrorist activity, did not have relevant knowledge of terrorist activity, or it was determined that their removal was appropriate. The Report includes the legal analysis by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that determined it is completely lawful to detain aliens after a removal order (both within and beyond the 90-day removal period) to investigate whether they are involved in terrorism. OLC is the office at the Justice Department that considers and sets forth the definitive legal position of the Department of Justice to resolve any legal differences between components of the Department.
“The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that:
1. The Department may detain an alien for the full 90 day statutory “removal period” even if the Department could remove the alien more quickly, despite the belief of some individuals within the INS that the Department must act with “reasonable dispatch”; and
2. The Department may take more than 90 days to remove an alien, even when the alien could be removed within 90 days, if the delay is related to investigating whether the alien has ties to terrorism or many other legitimate purposes related to effecting national immigration laws and policies.
“There is no automatic right of an illegal alien in our country to be released on bond during removal proceedings. This is considered to be ‘discretionary relief.’ It would have been irresponsible to release from custody or remove from the country illegal aliens who were believed by the FBI to be connected to the September 11 attacks or to terrorism. We could not take the risk that we might release or inadvertently remove an alien who was involved in or had knowledge of the attacks.
“Illegal aliens who are not detained, flee. A report by the Inspector General issued this past February demonstrates that aliens who are not detained usually flee and elude deportation. The report noted that 94% of detained aliens were deported; while only 13% of non-detained aliens were deported.
“The February Inspector General report found that high risk aliens were particularly unlikely to be found in order to be deported:
“As we stated from the start, our policy was to use all legal tools available to protect the American people from additional terrorist attacks. The consequences of not doing so could mean life or death.”