- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

The head of the House subcommittee on immigration told the Immigration and Naturalization Service yesterday not to selectively enforce immigration laws by accepting the presence of millions of illegal immigrants.
Rep. George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Judiciary immigration and claims subcommittee, called "troublesome" recent reports that he said indicate the INS may have to ignore the broader issue of illegal immigration to focus on potential threats to domestic security.
"I cannot subscribe to such a policy, or such an idea, and I believe that we are committed to look into the implications of that kind of broad policy statement," Mr. Gekas said at an oversight hearing.
He called the hearing to examine what the INS is doing about the 314,000 people it estimates remain in the country despite orders that they be deported, and about the millions of other illegal aliens who live in the United States.
The INS has long been criticized for its inability to stop illegal entries and track visitors in the country. But its role in ousting those who have overstayed their visas, entered the country illegally or are under deportation orders has come under increased scrutiny since the September 11 attacks.
Joseph R. Greene, the INS assistant commissioner for investigations, the division that investigates those cases, testified that since the attacks, his 2,000 investigators have been pulled in many directions particularly in aiding other law enforcement agencies in tracking down terrorists.
"If you look around our field offices, you will find agents who are using every law and every authority at their disposal to accomplish certain ends," Mr. Greene told the panel. "But those ends are limited to those which we interpret pose the greatest harm to our people."
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat, applauded that focus, saying the INS has limited resources and that the post-September 11 crackdown should not be aimed at all illegal immigrants.
"If we turn this into an effort to evict the farm workers instead of finding the terrorists, we will be putting America at risk," she said. "To turn this need to go after terrorists into a need to oust those who pick our vegetables, I think, would be a real disservice."
But Mr. Gekas said tracking those here illegally, including those already under deportation orders, is important to national security.
"There are thousands among those millions, perhaps millions among those millions, who have exactly that kind of mind-set to do harm to our country, to be or become terrorists," Mr. Gekas said.
The INS announced a plan in December to enter into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database the names of the 314,000 people ignoring deportation orders. If the FBI or state and local police came across someone in the database, they can then report the person to the INS.
But that plan drew criticism yesterday from Marisa J. Demeo, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, who said most of those persons are guilty of violating civil immigration laws, not of criminal offenses, and don't pose a threat to national security. In particular, she criticized the government's Operation Tarmac, which identified and ordered the deportation of 600 workers with access to sensitive areas at airports who had violated immigration laws.
Mr. Greene, however, said that by defying the deportation order, the immigrants have committed a felony. He also said his agency went after illegal aliens at airports because they are viewed as security risks, as they might be susceptible to blackmail.


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