oversight

Immigration Benefits: Second Report Required by the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 1998

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-10-19.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States General Accounting Office                                         General Government Division
Washington, D.C. 20548




                 B-282944

                 October 19, 1999

                 The Honorable Ted Stevens, Chairman
                 The Honorable Robert C. Byrd, Ranking Minority Member
                 Committee on Appropriations
                 United States Senate

                 The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch, Chairman
                 The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Ranking Minority Member
                 Committee on the Judiciary
                 United States Senate

                 The Honorable C.W. Bill Young, Chairman
                 The Honorable David Obey, Ranking Minority Member
                 Committee on Appropriations
                 House of Representatives

                 The Honorable Henry J. Hyde, Chairman
                 The Honorable John Conyers, Jr., Ranking Minority Member
                 Committee on the Judiciary
                 House of Representatives

                 Subject: Immigration Benefits: Second Report Required by the Haitian Refugee Immigration
                 Fairness Act of 1998

                 This report responds to the requirements of the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of
                      1
                 1998 (HRIFA) that authorizes certain Haitian nationals and their dependents to apply to
                 adjust their status to legal permanent residence. Section 902(k) of the act requires the
                 Comptroller General to report every 6 months on the number of Haitian nationals who have
                 applied and been approved to adjust their status to legal permanent residence. The reports
                 are to contain a breakdown on the numbers who applied or were approved as asylum
                 applicants, parolees, children without parents, orphaned children, or abandoned children; or
                 as the eligible dependents of these applicants, including spouses, children, and unmarried



                 1
                     P.L. 105-277, Division A, Title IX.
B-282944


sons or daughters. Reports are to be provided until all applications have been finally
                                       2
adjudicated. This is our second report.

Results in Brief
On May 12, 1999, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Executive Office
for Immigration Review (EOIR) published interim regulations to implement HRIFA and
requested public comments. The comment period ended July 12, 1999. Between May 12, 1999,
and July 23, 1999, INS conducted nationwide HRIFA training for INS employees,
representatives of community-based organizations (CBO) and attorneys who plan to assist
Haitian nationals in completing and filing their applications. INS and EOIR also established
application filing procedures and internal processing procedures to adjudicate the
applications and track their status, including numbers of applications received or filed and
approved by category of applicant.

As of October 1, 1999, INS had received 8,769 HRIFA applications and EOIR had 9 HRIFA
applications filed. INS had not approved any applications, and EOIR had approved eight
applications. Details on the categories of the applicants and approvals are provided in this
report.

HRIFA Regulations Published
                                                                                                                3
On May 12, 1999, INS and EOIR published interim regulations to implement HRIFA. The
interim regulations went into effect on June 11, 1999. Thus, Haitian applicants could begin
filing applications with INS or EOIR on June 11, 1999.

During the comment period that ended July 12, 1999, INS data show it received comments
from 23 individuals and 25 organizations. There were 67 proposed changes to the interim
regulations.

HRIFA Training Provided by INS
INS conducted HRIFA training for 134 INS employees who are to adjudicate the applications
and for 584 representatives of CBOs and attorneys who plan to assist Haitian nationals in
completing and filing the applications. As shown in table 1, 1-day training sessions were
conducted in eight locations nationwide between May 12, 1999, and July 23, 1999.




2
 Our first report was Immigration Benefits: Applications for Adjustment of Status Under the Haitian Refugee Immigration
Fairness Act of 1998 (GAO/GGD-99-92R, Apr. 21, 1999).
3
    Adjustment of Status for Certain Nationals of Haiti, 64 Fed. Reg. 25756 (1999).




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Table 1: Scope of HRIFA Training Provided by INS, May 12, 1999--July 23, 1999
                                                                INS
Date      Location        Attendees                            staff                 CBOs and attorneys
May 12 Miami, FL          INS officers from the Miami district   45                                   0
May 13 Miami, FL          CBOs and attorneys from Florida         0                                 300
May 18 Newark, NJ         CBOs and attorneys from NJ, NY,         0                                  34
                          PA
May 26 New York, NY       CBOs and attorneys from NY              0                                  115
May 27     New York, NY  INS officers from the New York and     11                                     0
                         Newark districts
June 2 Boston, MA        CBOs and attorneys from MA              0                                    52
June 3 Boston, MA        INS officers from the Eastern           6                                     0
                         Regional Office, Boston and
                         Portland districts
June 10 Lincoln, NE      INS officers from the Central          48                                     0
                         Regional Office and Nebraska
                         Service Center
June 15 Los Angeles, CA INS officers from the Los Angeles        7                                     0
                         and San Diego districts
June 16 Los Angeles, CA CBOs and attorneys from Los              0                                    30
                         Angeles and San Diego
July 1  Washington, D.C. CBOs and attorneys from                 0                                    41
                         Washington, D.C., MD, and VA
July 16 New Orleans, LA CBOs and attorneys from LA               0                                    12
July 23 New Orleans, LA INS officers from New Orleans and       17                                     0
                         Oakdale, LA; Dover, DE; Houston,
                         TX; Fort Smith, AR; Louisville, KY;
                         Milwaukee, WI; Phoenix, AZ; St.
                         Paul, MN; St. Thomas, VI; and
                         Seattle, WA
Total                                                          134                                   584
Source: INS data.


Separate training sessions were provided for INS staff and CBOs and attorneys. Based on our
observations at the training sessions in Miami, FL, both the INS and the CBO and attorney
training covered the statutory provisions and interim regulations, eligibility, application forms
and procedures, evidentiary requirements, definition of Haitian nationality, work
authorization, and guidance provided by INS to its field offices. The training for INS staff also
covered adjudication procedures and fraud detection. According to INS officials, the same
information was provided at each location.

INS Processing of HRIFA Applications
Haitian applicants are to send their applications to INS’ Nebraska Service Center in Lincoln,
NE. INS established a dedicated post office box for HRIFA applications; consequently, when
the Postal Service delivers the mail to the service center’s mailroom, the HRIFA applications
are already separated from other types of applications. INS’ contractor at the service center is
to process the applications up to the point of their adjudication by INS examiners. The
contractor has prepared draft procedures for processing the applications and has provided




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training to its staff. Further, the contractor has dedicated audit staff to monitor quality
control and ensure compliance with the procedures.

Contractor staff are responsible for sorting the mail by placing applications of the same type
into bins that are then labeled to show the date received and the number of pieces in the bin.
Clerks are to review the applications to ensure that the applications are signed and that the
proper fees are enclosed. If the signature or proper fee is missing, the application is to be
rejected and returned to the applicant. If the application is accepted, clerks are to prepare an
application file and verify the applicant’s alien number (A-number) or assign a new one. For
applicants that already have a verified A-number, clerks are to request that their A-files be
sent to the service center.

Clerks are to enter data from the applications, including category of Haitian applicant, into
INS’ Computer Linked Application Information System (CLAIMS). Fees are to be separated
                                                                                              4
from the application and prepared for deposit, and receipts are to be sent to the applicants.
Forms used to conduct criminal record and other security checks on the applicant are also to
be separated and sent to the appropriate agency, such as the Department of State and the
Federal Bureau of Investigation. When all requested materials have been received, the files
are to be forwarded to INS examiners for adjudication. According to INS officials, because of
the time required to conduct security checks, they expect the adjudication process will take
about 1 year to complete, commencing from the date the HRIFA application for adjustment is
received.

The application may be adjudicated at the service center or in the INS district with
jurisdiction over the area where the alien applicant resides. Generally, applications that are
complete and evidentially sufficient can be adjudicated at the service center, according to
INS officials. If an interview is required or other issues need to be resolved, the application is
to be forwarded to the appropriate INS district where the applicant can be interviewed and
the application adjudicated. CLAIMS is to be updated following adjudication of the
                                                                                 5
application, including the category under which the applicant was approved.

HRIFA Applications Received by INS
As of October 1, 1999, INS had received 8,769 HRIFA applications at the Nebraska Service
Center. Of these, 3,441 were being processed in the mail room or were awaiting data entry
processing. The remaining 5,328 had been entered into CLAIMS, and the categories and
numbers of these applicants are shown in table 2. As of October 1, 1999, INS had not
approved any applications for adjustment of status under HRIFA.



4
 During this review, we noted that INS was not making timely deposits of Haitians’ application fees. At the request of the
Chairman, House Subcommittee on Immigration and Claims, we plan to follow up on all INS application fee deposits in a
separate review.
5
 A HRIFA applicant may be approved under any category for which he or she is eligible, irrespective of the category under
which he or she applied.




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Table 2: HRIFA Applications and Categories of Applications Received and Approved by INS, as of
October 1, 1999
Principal or dependent   Category of applicant            Number in CLAIMS         Number approved
Principal                Asylum                                        3,103                     0
Principal                Parolee                                       1,273                     0
Principal                Child without parents                            69                     0
Principal                Orphaned child                                   20                     0
Principal                Abandoned child                                  26                     0
Dependent                Spouse                                          303                     0
Dependent                Child                                           501                     0
Dependent                Unmarried son or daughter                        33                     0
Total                                                                  5,328                     0
Source: INS data.


EOIR Processing of HRIFA Applications
Any Haitian national who is eligible for HRIFA is to file an application to adjust his or her
status to legal permanent residence with EOIR rather than INS if the applicant has (1) a
proceeding pending before the Immigration Court or the Board of Immigration Appeals, or
(2) a pending motion to reopen or reconsider filed on or before May 12, 1999. Thus, a Haitian
national who is in deportation, exclusion, or removal proceedings is to file his or her HRIFA
application with EOIR rather than INS.

According to a May 12, 1999, EOIR memorandum, information about Haitian applicants is to
be recorded in its case tracking system, the Automated Nationwide System for Immigration
Review (ANSIR). Information on each HRIFA applicant, including the category under which
the alien is applying for adjustment of status, is to be entered into ANSIR. When the case is
completed, information on the outcome of the case, including the category under which the
alien was approved, is to be entered into ANSIR.

HRIFA Applications Received by EOIR
As of October 1, 1999, EOIR had nine HRIFA applications filed, of which one was closed by
agreement of the parties and eight had been approved for adjustment of status. Table 3
provides information on the categories and numbers of HRIFA applicants and approvals.




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Table 3: HRIFA Applications and Categories of Applicants Filed With and Approved by EOIR, as of
October 1, 1999
Principal or
dependent       Category of applicant                    Number in ANSIR             Number approved
                                                                                                     a
Principal       Asylum                                                   6                         6
Principal       Parolee                                                  1                          1
Principal       Child without parents                                    1                          1
Principal       Orphaned child                                           0                          0
Principal       Abandoned child                                          0                          0
Dependent       Spouse                                                   1                          0
Dependent       Child                                                    0                          0
Dependent            Unmarried son or daughter                                            0                                   0
Total                                                                                     9                                   8
a
In two of the six cases, the orders granting adjustment were not administratively final because appeal had been reserved in
both cases and the time allowed to file an appeal had not expired.
Source: EOIR data.


Objectives, Scope, and Methodology
Our objectives for this report were to determine (1) the number and categories of applicants
who filed applications with INS or EOIR, (2) the number and categories of applicants whose
applications were approved by INS or EOIR, and (3) the procedures that INS and EOIR had
established to process and track HRIFA applications. The first two objectives meet the act’s
reporting requirements, and the third objective provides information on the actions INS and
EOIR have taken to implement the act. To fulfill these objectives, we interviewed INS and
EOIR officials; reviewed data and documentation related to data collection that were
provided by INS and EOIR officials; attended INS-provided training for INS employees as well
as CBOs and attorneys in Miami, FL; and reviewed HRIFA application processing procedures
at INS’ Nebraska Service Center. We did not verify the accuracy of the HRIFA applicant data
provided by INS and EOIR because the data needed for verification was incomplete at the
time of our review. We conducted our work between April and October 1999, in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards.

We provided INS and EOIR with a draft of this report. On October 13, 1999, we met with the
Chief of the Residence and Status Branch, Office of Adjudications, and other INS officials and
separately spoke with an Associate General Counsel from EOIR. In their oral comments, INS
and EOIR officials generally agreed with the information in the report, and their technical
comments were incorporated where appropriate.




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B-282944


We are providing copies of this report to the Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General, and
will make copies available to others upon request. If you have any questions about this report,
please contact Evi L. Rezmovic or me at (202) 512-8777. The key contributor to this
assignment was Jay Jennings.




Laurie E. Ekstrand
Director, Administration of Justice Issues




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