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September 2002, Volume 9, Number 9

INS: Border, Exit-Entry

James Ziglar, the 25th INS Commissioner, announced his resignation in August 2002; he agreed to remain at the INS until the agency is absorbed in the new Department of Homeland Security. Ziglar, a self-described libertarian, was generally praised by admissionist groups, who regretted his resignation, saying he favored providing services over law enforcement.

After September 11, Ziglar said repeatedly that immigrants should not be equated with terrorists. However, some critics of the INS said that the terrorist attacks should change the nation's immigration focus from that of service to enforcement. The INS continues to be plagued by low morale, high attrition and an inability to perform basic functions, such as serving immigrants in a timely way and preventing illegal immigration.

Border. The number of apprehensions on the Mexico-US border is down 30 percent in 2002 compared to 2001, to 702,328 in nine months, or 78,000 a month. Deaths of migrants attempting entry are down by 20 percent in 2002 compared to the same period in 2001. Over the past two years an average one migrant a day has died along the border, with the number peaking in August, as migrants unfamiliar with the desert attempt passage.

Most migrants attempting illegal entry pay $1,000 to $2,000 to smugglers, who take them to the border, provide them with guides to cross the border, and then arrange rides on the US side to take the migrants to a safe house in a nearby city, where the final fees are paid.

As the US tightens border controls, the smugglers have gotten "desperate, ruthless and deadly," in the words of INS officials. The Border Patrol has inland checkpoints on major roads leading away from the border, and some smugglers attempt to get around them by driving on the wrong side of the road, driving north in the southbound lanes that carry traffic to the border. Many smuggling vans are outfitted with heavy bumpers and tires filled with silicone gel to push other cars out of the way and to counter spikes. The vans make their wrong-way driving attempts in the early morning hours.

The US and Mexico are cooperating to apprehend and prosecute smugglers--using undercover operations, releasing a "Most Wanted" list of smugglers, and enlisting Mexican celebrities in a media campaign that warns migrants of the dangers of desert crossings. The US government is prosecuting more smugglers- the San Diego office is expected to prosecute 500 in 2002. However, migrants continue to seek out smugglers, and they continue to develop decoys and other tactics to try to slip migrants into the US.

The INS has had trouble hiring and retaining Border Patrol agents. The INS is authorized to have 16,500 Border Patrol agents and immigration inspectors, but in August 2002 had only 15,000, including 10,000 Border Patrol agents and 5,000 inspectors. Since October 1, 2001, about 2,000 agents and inspectors left the INS, many for higher salaries at the Transportation Security Administration. The Border Patrol reached its goal of hiring 1,500 agents in the first nine months of FY02, but lost 1,450 agents. Turnover among Border Patrol agents may reach 23 percent this year, compared to six percent for all federal workers.

Smuggling. The INS in August 2002 broke up a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of children into the U.S. from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras to join their parents, who were often illegally in the US. The parents paid $5,000 each to the 12 smugglers, whose arrest was front-page news throughout Central America. The head of the smuggling ring was a US immigrant who was deported in 1995 and 1998 for smuggling.

Authorities emphasized that there are many smuggling rings that offer to unite children with parents who are illegally in the US. An INS agent said: "parents will do anything to be reunited with their children. But they need to understand ... they are literally turning over the lives of their children to smugglers who don't really care about anything but the money."

Exit-Entry. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System aims to check targeted visitors' fingerprints against databases with information on suspected terrorists and immigration violators. The INS hopes to fingerprint and photograph as many as 200,000 people arriving at US airports and border stations with temporary business, tourist or student visas.

The INS uses the IDENT system to electronically collect two "flat" fingerprints, scanning them from each index finger pressed onto glass pads. The FBI, by contrast, collects "rolled" prints from all 10 digits, producing images that provide much more data than the IDENT system.

Since 1991, the INS has selectively fingerprinted 54,000 visitors from Iraq, Iran, Libya and Sudan. In June 2002, the INS said it would begin fingerprinting arriving foreigners who "warrant monitoring in the national security interests."

The INS admitted in August 2002 that over two million documents filed by foreigners, from change of address forms to requests for benefits, have been piling up in a warehouse complex outside Kansas City, Missouri. Local field offices sent records they did not have time to process to the warehouse, where they were stored but not examined.

In August 2002, the INS said it had apprehended 806 of the 314,000 foreigners ordered deported whose departure from the US could not be confirmed.

Rene Sanchez, "Migrant Smuggling Grows More Ruthless, Deadly," Washington Post, August 11, 2002. Evelyn Nieves, "Illegal Immigrant Death Rate Rises Sharply in Barren Area," New York Times, August 6, 2002. Jonathan Peterson, "'Mass Exodus' of Agents Leaves INS Scrambling," Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2002. Ann Davis, "Plan to Fingerprint Visitors To U.S. Raises Many Doubts," Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2002.