Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 03060341 (posted Jun. 3, 2003)"
For Immediate Release
Monday, June 2, 2003
TDD (202) 514-1888
Statement of Barbara Comstock, Director of Public Affairs, Regarding
the IG's Report on 9/11 Detainees:
“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:
- 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
- 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:
- Only 6% removed of those ordered deported from countries that are state
sponsors of terrorism;
- Only 35% removed of those with criminal records;
- Only 3% removed of those who were denied asylum.
- Despite recommendations from the 1996 report, over 5 years later the
Inspector General found the INS still remained ‘ineffective at removing
“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.”