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INS chief praises employees, reaffirms agency reform

The head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service praised the agency's employees and dismissed its critics Friday in a speech before the National Immigration Forum. "The employees at the INS are dedicated, smart, loyal people who believe in their mission," said INS Commissioner James Ziglar in his speech to the advocacy group for immigrants and refugees. Despite what critics may think, employees are committed to management changes designed to help the INS protect the nation's borders while also better serving a growing immigrant population, he said. "INS folks want to be perceived differently," Ziglar said. "They want to be perceived for what they are, not what people think they are." In response to critics on Capitol Hill who have been skeptical of the agency's efforts at reform, he said: "You can't always see all the changes. We are not going to put out a press release every single time a change is made." One of the agency's critics, House Immigration Reform Caucus Chairman Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., favors abolishing the current INS and creating a new border security agency that focuses on enforcing immigration laws. At an immigration conference recently, Tancredo charged that the current INS is structured more for providing social services to immigrants than for enforcing the law. But in his speech, Ziglar pledged to crack down on illegal aliens, while at the same time providing better service to legal immigrants. "The flouting of immigration laws must and will stop," Ziglar said. "We have to be tough when it comes to enforcing the laws, but tender with the people we deal with." A December report from the Justice Department's inspector general criticized the INS for not tracking down or penalizing aliens who fail to appear before the agency when required by law. Ziglar said the agency has started entering data on 314,000 "absconders" into the National Crime Information Center, a database maintained by the FBI. The database includes more than 40 million records on criminals, suspects and stolen property and is available to federal, state and local law enforcement personnel. In November, Ziglar and Attorney General John Ashcroft announced a major restructuring plan that will split the agency into a law enforcement bureau and a service bureau. In December, Ziglar appointed long-time INS employee Richard B. Cravener to oversee the agency's reorganization. "We are not going to let the restructuring plan get derailed," Ziglar pledged Friday. According to Ziglar, the INS is also working with several agencies to improve border security and enforce immigration laws. The agency is helping the FBI track down leads on alleged terrorists, working with the Treasury Department to identify sources of terrorist funding and using information from the State Department to monitor foreigners coming in and out of the country, he said.