Attorney General Ashcroft Transcript
News Conference with INS Commissioner Ziglar
INS Restructuring: The Next Steps
Immigration and Naturalization Service
Wednesday, April 17, 2002
ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon.
In November of last year, the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service unveiled a plan to reform fundamentally the INS by separating its service function from its enforcement function while maintaining a single agency head. This administrative restructuring helps fulfill President Bush's pledge to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's immigration system.
We all recognize the urgent need to restructure the INS as quickly and efficiently as possible while maintaining an appropriate degree of flexibility. Today the INS is kicking off a series of initiatives demonstrating the administration's deep commitment to enforcing our immigration laws and treating immigrants with dignity. The INS must become both a stronger deterrent to our enemies and a better servant to our friends.
I want to thank Commissioner Jim Ziglar for his diligent efforts to restructure the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is his effort and his planning and his insight that makes possible what we do today. The importance of his mission cannot be understated -- should not be understated. It cannot be overstated, let me put it that way. I also thank the men and women of the INS, who demonstrate every day unwavering dedication to their work. I have worked with them in a variety of settings, on the borders and in service areas,and they are eager to serve America well.
Today marks the beginning of unprecedented change, not just in the organizational structure of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but in its day-to-day enforcement and service activities. For at least the past 30 years, periodic restructurings of the INS have dealt with Washington management rather than with national and international operations. You might say the deck chairs have been rearranged but the operations, where the real work gets done, has been virtually unchanged.
This administration understands that if we want operational change, we must change our operations across the nation and around the world. Accordingly, effective today, we are implementing a series of changes in the way that INS does its business -- not just in Washington but in the field, where our immigration laws are enforced and new immigrants are welcomed to the country.
The first change we are beginning today is the creation of a stronger, more direct chain of command for the U.S. Border Patrol. Instead of communicating through district and regional field offices, as they have previously, Border Patrol leadership in the field will now report directly to Border Patrol chief Gus de la Vina. And I'm pleased that Gus is here with us today.
Second, effective today, we are consolidating various detention- and-removal program functions. To ensure efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in our detention-and-removal operations, we are creating a direct line of reporting to the head of detentions in Washington, again, streamlining the reporting procedure, avoiding several steps of bureaucratic reporting in other settings.
Third, we are establishing an Office of Juvenile Affairs, reporting directly to the commissioner, allowing the INS to meet better the special needs of the unaccompanied minors that become its responsibility. Effective today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service will provide specially trained personnel and services exclusively dedicated to the children who have come into the custody of INS.
And finally, the explosive growth of in the INS in recent years requires measures to help the agency deal with its changing size and character. Each year, over 500 million inspections are conducted at our ports of entry. In the last eight years, the INS has handled more naturalization applications than in the previous 40 years combined. As a result, since 1993, the INS workforce has doubled, and its budget has nearly quadrupled. To manage better this burgeoning workforce, we are creating a chief financial officer who will be responsible for sound fiscal management of the agency. And because information is the best friend of law enforcement, we are creating a chief information officer who will be charged with improving and integrating the agency's databases and data systems and expanding and enhancing interagency information sharing.
These offices will work to ensure that the American people receive the maximum return on their considerable investment in the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In addition to the operational changes announced today, we will soon announce initiatives specifically designed to clarify and streamline the INS changed of -- chain of command in the provision of services to immigrants.
I would also like to take this opportunity to commend the work of Congress in seeking to improve further our border security. We thank the House of Representatives for passing a border security bill and appreciate the efforts of Senators Kennedy and Brownback and Kyl and others to pass similar legislation in the Senate. In the House, of course, Congressman Sensenbrenner and Congressman Rogers have been very influential in matters relating to INS. We welcome their efforts to improve technology and accountability on the borders, and to provide the necessary resources for hardworking members of the INS team to achieve the objectives of this important agency.
There are a number of important provisions that would toughen up our borders being considered in the Congress, including making personnel -- personal identification documents more tamper-resistant and secure, enhancing the alien application screening process to eliminate entry of unwanted individuals, and doing more to monitor foreign students and exchange visitors to ensure that they do not violate their immigration status.
In addition, the House-passed legislation includes a provision that extends an appropriate welcome by recognizing that families that are in the country already should not be split up as a result of INS activity. The administration continues to believe that this is an appropriate and useful provision to include in any final legislation.
It is now my privilege to ask INS Commissioner Jim Ziglar to make comments and to provide additional information regarding these important changes. Jim, thank you.
MR. ZIGLAR: Thank you, General. As you noted, this is a landmark day in the history of the INS. For at least 30 years, the operations of the INS in the field have remained exactly the same. While there have been some partial reorganizations at the headquarters level, there have been no fundamental changes in the management structure of how we do our business in this organization at the place where it's needed the most, and that's in the field.
The initiatives that we're announcing today are the first steps in the reform of the INS and represent significant structural changes aimed at creating a clear division between the agency's service and enforcement missions, and creating better-defined chains of command within those divisions. They also demonstrate that we're not merely moving around boxes in an organizational chart, but we're fundamentally reforming the way that the INS will do its business in the future.
The president's made it clear that he wants the INS reformed, and the attorney general and I are committed to carrying out the president's wishes.
We will deliver on the president's vision of an INS that provides high quality service on a consistent basis nationwide while protecting our borders and defending Americans from terrorism and other national security threats. These new initiatives that we're undertaking will help make the president's vision and our vision a reality.
As the attorney general noted, we are putting in effect today a new Border Patrol reporting structure that gives the Border Patrol chief, who's headquartered here at headquarters, direct responsibility for all aspects of Border Patrol operations, including line authority over the 21 sector chiefs out there in the field. Previously Border Patrol agents reported to sector chiefs, who reported to a regional director. The regional directors had both service and enforcement responsibilities, and then they reported up to headquarters. In effect, the Border Patrol chief has never had direct authority over his own organization until today.
The new direct chain of command for the Border Patrol will help enhance national security by enabling the chief to rapidly deploy personnel and other resources in response to crises anywhere in the United States. Let me give you a good example of why this structure needed changing and it needed changing now.
At the events of September 11th I wanted to move about 318 Border Patrol agents around the country to airports and to enhance security at those airports. What I found when I asked to have that done was that the reporting structures impeded my ability to get that done in any timely fashion. So I had to personally change the chain of command in an emergency situation and tell the chief, "Chief, get it done." And within 36 hours it was done. Two weeks later I attempted to do -- make another initiative happen. I tried to use the chain of command. I couldn't get it done for two weeks. I finally turned to the chief and I said, "Chief, I'm changing the chain of command for this emergency; get it done." It was done within 24 hours. That just goes to show you how bureaucratic we have been with these chains of command around here, and that's something that we're changing.
The Border Patrol is just the beginning, though. Our restructuring will result in better defined chains of command for all agency programs in both service and enforcement. By aligning expertise with the function being managed we're going to be able to achieve greater efficiency and greater accountability. And accountability, I've got to tell you, is one of the keys of this restructuring.
In the detentions and removals area, we are transferring control of some of the functions of our eight service processing centers from district and regional directors to headquarters. When this transition is completed, hopefully by mid-August, the head of detentions and removals will directly oversee the management of these agency-operated detention centers and will also have ultimate responsibility and accountability for the care of detainees and the implementation of detention standards.
These changes at the service processing centers are the first steps in a much broader plan to centralize control over all district detention and removal functions. The consolidation of management will help ensure that our detention policies and procedures are aimed at creating a safe, secure and humane environment for all or detainees, and that they are executed uniformly and consistently throughout the United States.
Juveniles in INS custody, as the attorney general mentioned, and especially unaccompanied juveniles, present a very unique challenge for us. To meet their special demands, we've created an Office of Juvenile Affairs, which is going to report directly to me. I'm really pleased to announce that our Boston district director, Steve Farquharson -- I know Steve is here someplace -- has been made the interim director of this new office. He will have direct line authority over officers in the field as he oversees a national program designed to make sure that all juveniles that come within our custody are treated with special care.
At the same time that we're going to be searching for a permanent director of the Office of Juvenile Affairs, as the attorney general noted, we're also looking to fill two other key positions that are being created in the new INS. And keep in mind we didn't have these positions in an organization of 35,000, which from my point of view, as a former businessman, is truly remarkable. And those two positions are a chief financial officer and a chief information officer.
As the AG noted, the CFO will have broad responsibilities aimed at ensuring sound financial management. These include developing and executing the budget, preparing annual financial plans, and overseeing our debt management program.
The chief information officer will be responsible for marshalling our information systems so that we can provide accurate, timely, up- to-date data both to enforcement and services bureaus within the INS, and to make sure that we share our information both internally and externally where it's needed and where it's necessary.
Finally, we have established a Field Advisory Board to act as a liaison between the Headquarters Office of Restructuring, which is being headed by Richard Cravener, who is also here with us today, and the various field components. As I mentioned to you, this reorganization is about changing the way we do the business -- our business in the field. And so what we have to do is go to the people in the field who know how things work to find out exactly what it is that we need to address in terms of those issues.
The Field Advisory Board that we have put together are senior people with a can-do attitude, and they have over 200 years of experience in the INS area.
It was clear to me last week, when we had a meeting of this board, that their leadership is going to be absolutely critical to the success of this restructuring. I'm in -- I'm confident that with their guidance -- the Field Advisory Board's guidance -- and with the help and support of the Congress and the administration, that we can completely reconstruct this INS and create a new INS. And it's an INS that we believe will be able to meet the challenges and the demands of the 21st century.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Sir?
Q Mr. Attorney General, there has been a lot of controversy about the possibility that the Justice Department give state and local police the power to apprehend illegal immigrants. There were some reports saying that the Justice Department was close to announce (sic) its final position in this regard. I wonder if there has been a delay in this announcement. And secondly, what has been the feedback from the community -- especially since some police chief, especially in Texas, has been opposed to this idea?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The matter of the way in which we can cooperate to better serve the
American people has been under consideration for quite some time. And it remains under consideration. We would want to do it in a way that respects the dignity and needs of all the people and also respects the resources and capacity of the various law enforcement agencies. For me to go beyond that while the matter is still under review would be inappropriate.
Q Could you give us the progress on any potential inclusion of the Customs Service and other agencies, as Director Ridge had suggested, into or with the INS? And how would this restructuring program work, if that were to happen?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I don't have any comment to make on that at this time.
Q Mr. Attorney General, a federal judge in Oregon has used very strong language against you, saying you basically overstepped your bounds in your actions regarding Oregon's assisted-suicide law. What reaction do you have to that?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, we'll be reviewing the decision of the judge. Obviously, we have the chief of our Civil Division there in Oregon for the hand-down of the opinion, and we'll make decisions about what our response is when we have an opportunity to digest the opinion.
Q General, the House is poised to vote on a restructuring bill possibly by the end of this month. Do you support that bill, which has been sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats in the House?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We look favorably, as I remarked in my opportunity to speak today, upon the efforts in the United States Congress to move us toward the capacity to serve effectively the citizens of this country and those who visit this country.
There are a number of provisions which I mentioned in particular which we wanted to highlight as being ones that we felt were particularly constructive. I am not in a position to endorse specific legislation in its entirety. But we commend the Congress for working on these matters and addressing these issues.
Q So basically you do not support this bill when it goes to the floor?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: No, it is not. It says that I'm not in a position to comment on the entirety of specific legislation.
Q Why not? The bill is out there. Why not take a position on it one way or the other?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Yes, sir.
Q General, if I could go back to the assisted suicide matter for just one moment. Just to quickly paraphrase from the ruling today, the judge's order: to allow an attorney general, an appointed executive, to determine the legitimacy of a particular medical practice without a specific congressional grant of such authority would be
unprecedented and extraordinary. How -- again, how disappointed are you in this decision?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We are digesting the opinion. The opinion will be evaluated in the department. The course of action to be taken by the department will be determined upon our complete reading of the opinion and evaluation of the circumstances.
Q Do you believe that Yasser Hamdi is a U.S. citizen, and is it appropriate to keep him in custody?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm personally not aware of the specific facts regarding this individual, who is not in the custody of the Justice Department.
STAFF: One more question, please.
Q A question regarding the INS, if either of you could answer it. There is a problem in Miami, where an Egyptian deportee was apprehended after having been able to fly from Spain to Miami with an apparently valid visa, although it should have been revoked or cancelled. Is this yet another problem with procedures? Have you changed your procedures? And what are the procedures for dealing with someone who is supposed
to have their visa revoked?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not familiar with the facts of the particular case -- couldn't comment on it.
It the --
Jim, if you care to do so, you're free to.
MR. ZIGLAR: Well, the particular case that you're talking about involved an Egyptian who was deported late last year, as I recall. And at the time that he was deported, there is an allegation that his visa was not stamped "cancelled" when he was deported, came back into the United States, into Miami, with this document in hand, without a cancellation stamp on it.
Now we don't know whether or not the -- it wasn't stamped or whether or not the document itself has been altered. There's awful lot of good technology out there to alter these kinds of things. And we will -- when we get possession of that document, which we don't have possession of now, we will analyze it to see if it's been tampered with.
But let me make an important point about this. The fact is that the fellow was apprehended, and the reason he was apprehended is because, using the advance passenger information system that we have in place, we detected that he was trying to come in before he ever landed in Miami. At the moment he landed, then, because he was on our alert list, if you will, we picked him up and took him into detention. So we have a system that works.
And what that also says is that even his visa wasn't stamped in New York, the fact is that the officer in New York put the information into the system that he had been removed from the United States.
Q But some people are saying that that isn't very reassuring, because he was able to get on that plane, and that should not have happened.
MR. ZIGLAR: Well, let me --
Q Are you considering changing your policies regarding visas?
MR. ZIGLAR: Well --
Q Maybe they -- should they be removed from the -- (inaudible) -- or should something be done differently?
MR. ZIGLAR: Let me address that last issue, because you've talked about two different things. "Advance passenger information" means that when somebody boards the plane, and the plane takes off, we get information that this list of people are on the plane. So he was able to get on the plane because we didn't have the information about him.
However, in the expanding of our technology, we're working with the airlines to be able to get information about their reservation system before people ever get on, so that we can analyze who's getting on a plane before the plane takes off. But we're not at that point in terms of our dealing with the airlines. We will get there with respect to that.
Q I guess I thought if someone had -- didn't have a valid visa, they wouldn't have been allowed on the plane.
MR. ZIGLAR: Well, if he didn't have a valid visa, he would not have been allowed on the plane. But what I'm saying is, we don't know the status of that visa. There's an investigation going on. Whether it was tampered with or whatever, we just don't know the answer to that question.
STAFF: Thank you, sir.