- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 6, 2002

The Immigration and Naturalization Service said yesterday it cannot locate more than 70,000 illegal Honduran and Nicaraguan aliens who failed to re-register for temporary protected status last week unless they commit serious crimes.
"We focus on individuals whose actions are most likely to affect public safety," said Russ Bergeron, INS spokesman. "We prioritize."
After a July 2 deadline, the INS reported last week that little more than 28,000 of the 105,000 Central American refugees from 1998's Hurricane Mitch signed up for their latest 12-month extensions to their temporary protected status (TPS). Most of the remaining 77,000 are thought to still be in the country.
Mr. Bergeron said the vast majority of the 7 million to 8 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States are considered non-criminal and therefore are not an enforcement priority, which has caused some observers to voice national security concerns.
"The INS can only wait for terrorists to strike," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).
In a recent study, the CIS reported that 22 of 48 al-Qaeda-linked terrorists were flagged for "noncriminal" violations of immigration law such as overstaying their visas or TPS, fraudulent marriages and phony names over the past ten years.
Mr. Bergeron said yesterday that the 1,950 INS special agents who, mostly based in prison systems and county jails, deport about 1,200 criminal aliens each week do not focus on catching "noncriminal" aliens.
"All law enforcement work is responsive to intelligence," he said.
Mr. Bergeron said the agents, whose duties also range from policing counterfeit documents and illegal sweatshops to serving on FBI and other agency task forces, are stretched too thinly to effectively track noncriminal aliens.
"In 1996, Congress directed us to create a computer-based system for tracking foreign visitors," he said. "Implementation of that system has since been delayed twice by congressmen from border states, the Canadian government and vested U.S. and Canadian business interests."
"Don't blame the INS," Mr. Krikorian said. "Ethnic interest groups would be upset if we enforced immigration laws, and it's unrealistic to expect the INS which has never been properly funded or staffed to track millions of people. Blame Congress."
All visitors to the United States, if they are inspected upon entry, currently fill out a two-part form I-94, leaving one part with the INS. They are then expected to return the second part to a flight attendant upon leaving the country.
Both Mr. Bergeron and the CIS call the paper-based system unreliable and ineffective.
"There's no formalized system of entry control and there never has been," Mr. Bergeron said.
Mr. Krikorian said the current consensus to implement a more focused entry-exit tracking system will succeed only with the help of Congress.
"We've already got immigration policies that look tough on paper, but they've never been implemented," he said. "The current system for tracking aliens is a joke."


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