- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2002

A senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee is asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to examine whether an Immigration and Naturalization Service support center in Vermont is misusing investigators and jeopardizing border security.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs, said the INS Law Enforcement Support Center, or LESC, in Vermont is paying for 22 investigators and investigative supervisors, even though the people in those positions don't really do any investigations.
"Given that the INS is at the forefront of our war against terrorism, I would think that these criminal investigative dollars could be put to better use," Mr. Grassley wrote in a letter last week to the attorney general. "I ask that you look into this issue to determine whether these agents and supervisory agents should be doing criminal investigative work elsewhere for the INS."
The LESC serves as an information clearinghouse for federal, state and local law enforcement officers who need to know the immigration status of someone they are investigating or have arrested.
But Mr. Grassley said responding to those requests doesn't require trained criminal investigators, and he detailed complaints from investigators at the center who said they don't get a chance to fulfill their job description, which calls for them to take part in criminal investigations and make arrests.
"It appears that agents do little more than compare information received from law enforcement officers around the country with information on file at the LESC, and then advise the local INS agents of a positive or negative match," he said. "Such administrative work could easily be handled by the dozens of Law Enforcement Technicians on staff."
Mr. Grassley wrote INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar on July 9 asking for him to respond to the questions by July 26. On Aug. 21, Joseph Karpinski, director of the INS' congressional relations and public affairs, responded with an eight-page letter defending the agents' work and their unique power to authorize detention based on immigration status.
"At a time when it is crucial for [law enforcement] to electronically link their resources quickly and efficiently in the war against criminal and terrorist activities, the LESC continues to prove a valuable and respected asset," Mr. Karpinski wrote.
Mr. Grassley, though, called the INS response inadequate.
"It was vague and incomplete, refused information on the basis of an invalid interpretation of the Privacy Act and investigative privileges and raised more questions than answers," he wrote to Mr. Ashcroft in asking him to get involved.
A Justice Department spokesman said officials there have received the letter and are reviewing it.
Mr. Grassley also questioned the record of the director of the LESC, Carol Chasse.
Ms. Chasse was reprimanded by the Justice Department's inspector general, which found that as a regional director in 1995 she was a key figure in a plan to fool congressional investigators into believing the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami was not overcrowded. The inspector general said some detainees were released and others were bused around during the investigators' visit to cut the detention center's population.
Ms. Chasse received a one-day suspension and took a position as head of the LESC, though the INS letter says the transfer was independent of the investigation into her role in the Krome situation.
Mr. Grassley asked why her punishment wasn't the 30-day suspension the inspector general recommended, and questioned why she received a pay raise upon her transfer.
"I am hard-pressed to explain to Iowans how a $21,000 pay increase constitutes disciplinary action," he said.
Mr. Karpinski said that since 1997 Ms. Chasse has earned "consistently high marks."
"Over the last five years, she has transformed LESC from a pilot project with 31 employees into a valuable law enforcement center with some 260 staff," he wrote.

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