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Jewish World Review June 11, 2002 / 1 Tamuz, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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Consumer Reports

Who's policing the INS? | Where were you last weekend between the hours of 1 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday? That's when police in Tacoma, Wash., believe somebody broke into the local inspection office of the Immigration and Naturalization Services and made off with a choice collection of INS ink stamps, all of which, with a well-aimed thud, can officially and talismanically grant access to the United States.

Among the missing items are a 90-day-admission stamp that validates foreign passports; a "parolee" stamp for refugees; two different stamps that allow foreign sailors ashore to shop; and an "I-551" stamp that marks the visas of those awaiting permanent-residency cards. Also pinched in the weekend burglary were a slew of INS forms, an INS badge, a .40-calibre Beretta, two clips of ammunition and a laptop computer.

In these times, it's a nerve-wracking haul -- unless you work for the INS. With a determinedly chipper clairvoyance, these real-life Keystone Kops -- sans laughs -- have decided the burglary has absolutely no connection to terrorism. "We're concerned that someone broke in," INS spokesman Garrison Courtney told the Seattle Times. "But we're not overly concerned they took the stamps or the badge. That's OK to us. I know the public is concerned that they could be used to make fraudulent stamps, but we're prepared for that."

That's OK and we're prepared? Pardon me for withholding audible sighs of relief, but this is the INS, not the Boy Scouts. Frankly, the agency should be a little "overly concerned." But no. "We've got them flagged," Courtney continued, just brimming with comic-book bravado as he argued the worthlessness of the booty. "We'll know right away that they're stolen."

Each stamp, it seems, has its own number, and, in the event of loss or theft, INS agents are notified a number has become invalid. So now, in addition to keeping an eye on the big picture -- you know, identifying terrorists passing into the country -- already over-stretched immigration agents have to check the fine print, literally, on their papers.

Even if the INS isn't fooled, others easily could be. "These stamps, when placed on a passport, any passport, or any other INS documents, are get-home-free cards when stopped by local police," explained retired INS district director Ben Ferro to Tacoma's News Tribune. "These are stamps that authenticate someone's documents. In light of September 11, the agency should be turning things upside down looking for these stamps." But the agents don't seem to want to break a sweat. "If they're going to send in this stuff, we're going to catch it," Courtney told the newspaper. "We're everywhere."

Tell that to the New York City cops who, as the New York Post reported last week, had to free an overloaded vanful of Middle Eastern men holding "a variety of paperwork" (including a fake government card from Times Square and a phony passport) because the INS didn't seem to have a soul on duty over Memorial Day Weekend. The agency contact number rang an INS office in Vermont, over 300 miles away. As one angry policeman put it, "What's the point of stopping vans and risking your life when the one agency with power blows you off? And this is after September 11." And what did the INS have to say in response? "Since September 11, our primary focus has been on terrorist-related investigations, and, contrary to belief, we are not in the business of detaining people without cause. These men posed no terrorist threat or, for that matter, any threat to the community."

Sweeping, aren't they? Snippy, too. You might wonder how the INS knew there was no terrorist threat if its agents never showed up. Probably the same way it figured the theft of the visa stamps was no big deal. (And what ever happened to policing good, old-fashioned immigration violations, anyway?) Such high-handed bumbling may be outrageous, but it is also commonplace. Agency overhaul, anyone? Thank goodness the Justice Department has decided to pitch in, having called on anti-terrorism teams of federal, state and local officers formed since Sept. 11 to assist the INS in registering and finger-printing Muslim and Middle Eastern visa holders. Professional Arabists and civil libertarians are squawking, but as Rep. Mark Foley, Florida Republican, has noted, "Al Qaeda is not an equal-opportunity employer."

By reactivating a law unofficially abandoned due to sheer visa volume and INS budget cuts in the 1980s, and applying it to visitors from countries that "pose the highest risk to our security," the government is finally taking a serious step to head off the terror networks that threaten us. In so doing, it will help the INS help itself -- and the nation it serves.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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05/31/02: Hillary's war
05/29/02: Have you forgotten we're at war?
05/24/02: An antiquated luxury of the past
05/21/02: From terrorists to tourists
05/19/02: Hate U.
05/07/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
05/03/02: Pioneering television
05/01/02: Western self-loathing numbs us to violence
04/29/02: It's the misconduct, stupid
04/24/02: Medal of diss-honor
04/17/02: Holy sanctuary or terrorist shield?
04/12/02: Egyptian clerics solicit martyrs for murder
04/09/02: Defining terrorism down
04/05/02: The Wilder life
04/02/02: Acting, equality and the Academy
03/31/02: Speeding to conclusions
03/25/02: Hard to remove blood (libel) stains
03/21/02: The tale of Nixon's tapes --- again
03/19/02: The Big Lie lives on
03/15/02: The tunnel vision of '9/11'
03/13/02: The American Auschwitz?
03/08/02: Hating the indoctrination of hate
03/05/02: Clinton and Enron: Old friends
03/01/02: Pickering doesn't polarize, the process does
02/26/02: Destiny's prefabricated child
02/22/02: The White House heist
02/20/02: Making the grade
02/11/02: Studying student visas
02/06/02: Understanding arrogance
02/04/02: The professor's war
01/29/02: Disconnected dialogue
01/23/02: Anti-Indiscrimination
01/18/02: How much is enough?
01/15/02: Oh brothers, where art thou?
01/10/02: Air on the side of caution
01/04/02: Blacks seeing red at Harvard
01/02/02: Clinton's campaign continues
12/26/01: A tale of two exhibitions
12/24/01: Taliban Idyll
12/19/01: Right is right
12/17/01: Hillary strikes out
12/13/01: Lost files, lost presidency
12/10/01: Revolutionaries never grow up
12/05/01: Immigration reform talk is not just for 'haters' anymore
12/03/01: A new symbol of justice
11/30/01: Beyond morality
11/26/01: Can't keep a good man down
11/20/01: Tough talk at the United Nations
11/19/01: Hollywood's other battle
11/14/01: What's the matter with Sara Jane?
11/09/01: A beef with bin Laden's Beef Noodles
11/07/01: Facing up to the FBI's past mistakes
11/02/01: A school that teaches patriots to shutup
10/30/01: The gap between Islam and peace
10/26/01: The ties that bind (and gag)
10/24/01: This war is more than Afghanistan
10/22/01: The fatuous fatwa
10/19/01: Left out
10/16/01: Whose definition of terrorism?
10/11/01: Post-stress disorder
10/08/01: How the West has won
10/01/01: Good, bad or ... diplomacy
09/28/01: Drawing a line in stone
09/21/01: Prejudice or prudence?
09/14/01: When our dead will finally rest in hallowed ground
09/07/01: We want our #$%^&*() audience back!
08/24/01: The transformation from Green Mountain State to Green Activist State is all but complete
08/17/01: Enlightenment at Yale
08/10/01: From oppressors to victims, a metamorphosis
08/03/01: Opening the dormitory door: College romance in the New Century
08/01/01: How-To Hackdom: The dubious art of writing books about writing books
07/20/01: Hemming about Hemmings
07/13/01: Justice has not been served in the Loiuma police brutality case
06/22/01: When PC parades are too 'mainstream'
06/22/01: When "viewpoint discrimination" in our schools was not nearly so gnarly a notion
06/15/01: Lieberman flaunts mantle of perpetual aggrievement
06/07/01: Is graciousness the culprit?
06/01/01: The bright side of the Jeffords defection
05/29/01: Campus liberals should be more careful
05/18/01: 'Honest Bill' Clinton and other Ratheresian Logic
05/11/01: Dodging balls, Bugs, and 'brilliance'
05/04/01: Foot in mouth disease and little lost Tories
04/20/01:The last classic Clinton cover-up
04/20/01: D-Day, Schmee-Day
04/06/01: For heaven's sake, a little decency!
03/30/01: The sweet sound of slamming doors and clucking feminists
03/23/01: America's magazines and the 'ick-factor'
03/09/01: Felony neglect
03/02/01: Who's sorry now?
02/23/01: 'Ecumenical niceness' and other latter-day American gifts to the world
02/16/01: Elton and Eminem: Royal dirge-icist meets violent fantasist
02/12/01: If only ...

© 2001, Diana West