Testimony of Larry K. ParkinsonI am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss with you, on behalf of the Justice Department, H.R. 2121, and more specifically, the use of classified information in immigration proceedings. I cannot address specific cases because of ongoing litigation and the need to protect sensitive law enforcement information, but I will try to illustrate the value to the United States of preserving the ability to use classified information in ex parte, in camera immigration proceedings.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
at a hearing on H.R. 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999
before the Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
May 23, 2000
At the outset, I want to emphasize that the Justice Department understands and acknowledges the serious concerns about the ex parte, in camera use of classified information in immigration proceedings. We recognize that the use of such information can profoundly affect the people involved. We take these matters seriously, and we do not casually resort to the use of classified information. We have found, however, that in a small number of cases the use of such information is necessary to adequately protect the national security, and we believe that the laws currently in place, which allow for the use of such information in appropriate cases, strike the best balance between the various interests affected in these cases.
Moreover, I want to emphasize that the Justice Department, recognizing all of the serious concerns implicated by this issue, has instituted practices and procedures to ensure that classified evidence is used only when necessary to adequately serve the national interest. Before any final decision is made to use classified information in immigration proceedings, the information and the case are subjected to rigorous review at high levels of all affected Justice Department components to ensure that it is necessary and appropriate to use the information. When the decision is made to use classified information in court, the alien is given an unclassified summary of the classified information when one can be produced, to use in the preparation and presentation of his or her case. Moreover, the Department is currently in the process of an ongoing review of all pending cases involving the use of classified information, to ensure that the information was properly used. The Department, under the Deputy Attorney General's Office, is also working on guidelines and regulations to regularize and improve these processes. The Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General are both personally involved in these efforts. The Department believes that all of these practices will help ensure that the letter and the spirit of current law will be honored, by requiting that classified information is used only when necessary in the interests of the United States.
Congress has considered this issue in the past and, for good reason, authorized the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to use and consider classified information in ex parte, in camera proceedings. In fact, the 1996 Congress thoroughly debated the competing interests involved during a review of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and on a hi-partisan vote of wide margins, determined that the United States should not be put to the choice of either admitting or suffering the continued presence of a terrorist alien, or compromising the national security information regarding that alien. INS has testified in the past as to its authority, and I will leave it to INS to respond to questions regarding the details of the immigration laws and regulations under which it operates. What I am here to emphasize is the value to the United States of preserving the INS's ability to present appropriately classified evidence in ex parte, in camera proceedings. This typically occurs when, in the considered opinion of executive branch officials, it is necessary to introduce such information in opposition to an alien's admission to the United States, or in opposition to an alien's application for discretionary relief such as the granting of asylum, adjustment of status, granting of bond, or cancellation of removal.
It is important to note that under current procedures classified information is not used to prove deportability in conventional immigration proceedings. In general, when the INS presents classified evidence ex parte and in camera, it does so only to demonstrate the alien's inadmissibility into the United States, to demonstrate that the immigration court should deny bond to an alien, or to demonstrate that the alien is ineligible for some type of relief he or she is seeking. In other words, classified evidence is used in conventional immigration proceedings only against aliens who are either seeking admission to the United States or, having been determined to be removable from the United States, are applying for relief from that removal. When an alien who has been determined to be removable, for overstaying a visa or on other grounds, seeks relief from removal -- asylum, withholding of removal, suspension, or adjustment of status - and other agencies have provided substantive, credible, and relevant classified information which indicates that the alien is ineligible for such relief or does not merit the exercise of discretion, the INS should bring such information to the attention of the immigration court in the interest of the rational security.
There are times when the government has highly relevant classified information that should be considered in determining an alien's immigration status, but the information cannot be made public or disclosed to the alien without harming the national security by compromising intelligence-gathering operation, and sources. In such cases the FBI, or whatever other agency has the information, shares it with the INS, and the information is subjected to a clearance process within the Justice Department by all concerned components, at a high level. Once consensus is reached that the alien poses a risk to the national security, or that the classified information is otherwise material to national security issues in the case, the INS presents the information to the immigration judge. The immigration judge then determines how much weight he or she will give to the information. It is important to note that while the ex parte, in camera use of classified information has garnered much media attention, it is in fact quite rare. Classified evidence is involved in only 11 pending cases out of a total of 300,000 cases pending overall.
The ability to use classified information in this manner is virtually important to the protection of our national security, because it allows us to proceed appropriately against the very small number of aliens who pose national security threats. Although the United States has always welcomed immigrants, it has also always been the policy of the United States to exclude those aliens who pose a threat to national security, such as terrorists and foreign intelligence operatives, and those who would impose undue burdens on society, such as convicted felons. In recent years we have found that direct and continuous liaison with INS, and the ability to use classified information in appropriate cases, are essential to the effort to protect the national security by making proper decisions about aliens with ties to terrorism or other activities that threaten our national security.
I firmly believe that the FBI must be able to share classified information with the INS, and the INS must be able to use the information in ex parte, in camera proceedings, when necessary in order to adequately protect the national security. That means the INS must be able to use the information in a manner which protects the confidentiality of the information, and the methods and sources used to obtain the information. Disclosing such information to the public, or to the alien, would put the sources and methods at risk, and we could no longer count on being able to use those sources and methods to lean important information about critical national security matters.
It should also be remembered that immigration proceedings are administrative and not criminal proceedings.