- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

House lawmakers yesterday questioned whether the Immigration and Naturalization Service can reform itself as the agency chief sought to deflect criticism at a hearing before a Judiciary Committee panel.
INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar testified in the first congressional hearing to examine why a Florida flight school received INS notices last week that student visas had been approved for two of the terrorists who attacked America on September 11.
Immigration and claims subcommittee Chairman George W. Gekas, Pennsylvania Republican, said the incident "struck an extra chord of horror" in Americans six months after the terrorist attacks and proved that lawmakers must take "giant steps" to reconstruct the INS.
The Judiciary Committee is set to take up a bill soon that would abolish the INS and create a new agency with two separate bureaus: one to handle immigration services and another to handle immigration enforcement.
Mr. Ziglar said he remains committed to improving the beleaguered INS and highlighted several changes made since September 11.
But most panel members were unimpressed. "Is the INS capable of reforming itself?" asked Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "My expectations are pretty low."
Mr. Ziglar said that starting in July, the INS will begin deploying a new, improved system for student visas that eventually will allow schools to receive quick, electronic notice of student approvals.
Mr. Ziglar stressed the documents received by the Florida flight school did not mean new visas were being issued or that new decisions were being made regarding Mohamed Atta, 33, and Marwan Al-Shehhi, 23, who piloted jetliners into the World Trade Center.
"Simply put, Huffman Aviation International was receiving their file copies of paperwork they originally prepared," Mr. Ziglar said.
Mr. Ziglar said the INS contract facility, Affiliated Computer Services, which sent out the notices, "did nothing wrong." The INS should have stepped in and removed the paperwork of the two men after the terrorist attacks, he said.
Mr. Ziglar said the INS is considering some important changes relevant to this case. For example, both Atta and Al-Shehhi began their flying lessons at Huffman Aviation before they applied for the change to student status, which is currently allowed. Mr. Ziglar said the INS may change that to prevent foreigners from beginning any training until their student status is approved.
He also said many foreigners come in to the United States on visitor visas, like Atta, and then change to student status. He said the INS is looking at ways that can be changed.
INS Special Agent Michael Cutler testified that the processing of visa applications appears to be an "unwieldy system" and lawmakers must determine if every visa application needs to be checked against a database similar to the one that immigration inspectors use at ports of entry.
He also said that more special agents are needed to investigate aliens who are in the country illegally and to uncover fraud in visa applications.


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