By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Michael Wixted and Michael Boze met at Miami International Airport on Saturday, June 10, 1995, for the purpose of thwarting a federal crime. Word was out that their bosses, high-level supervisors at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), were preparing to hoodwink a visiting congressional delegation.
The seven representatives from the Task Force on Immigration Reform were due at 1:00 p.m. Wixted and Boze reached the INS inspections area in Concourse E about noon. The two men, president and treasurer of the local branch of the American Federation of Government Employees, represented INS workers in their negotiations with and grievances against management. That Saturday, indignation was running high.
Employees were complaining that normal procedures had been abandoned in order to give the false appearance that INS operations at the airport were functioning smoothly. Extra workers had been brought in so that immigration inspection booths would seem fully staffed. (In reality, delays had recently stretched two hours or more.) And despite the risk of encountering unruly travelers, inspectors were told not to wear their leather gun belts so as to leave a kinder, gentler impression on the visiting congressmen.
As the level of griping in the employee lounge reached a crescendo, Wixted and Boze spontaneously scrawled out placards: "Don't Lie to Congress," "Tell the Congress the Truth!" and "Whitewash for Congress." They posted the signs in the lounge and then headed out to speak with inspectors working the floor.
Alfonso Galafa was at one of the inspection booths scrutinizing visas and stamping passports when a disturbance in a nearby booth caught his eye. A tall man in cowboy boots was struggling to drag Michael Wixted out of the booth. The tall man was George Waldroup, a senior official in the INS's Miami district. "It started when I heard the comment from George, 'You guys are not supposed to be here. You guys have to leave right now,'" Galafa recalled in a recent interview. "Then Michael says, 'Take it easy, I don't want any problems.'"
Galafa watched as Waldroup grabbed Wixted and forced the smaller man to the ground. "I heard Michael say, 'Take your hands off me or I'll call Metro-Dade and have you arrested for disorderly conduct.' It got to the point where it was basically assault and battery, and I left my booth to help Michael."
The scuffle ended not a moment too soon, for the delegation had already arrived and the congressmen had been escorted to a glass-walled room with a view of the inspection floor.
The seven-member traveling delegation -- drawn from the larger Task Force on Immigration Reform -- consisted of two Democrats and five Republicans, who had come to Miami on a fact-finding mission to familiarize themselves with INS operations. The brainchild of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the task force was charged with finding solutions to illegal immigration. Prior to visiting Miami, the lawmakers had inspected INS operations in New York and San Diego.
"It's common knowledge that the INS and the Border Patrol are overutilized and undermanned," says Rep. Elton Gallegly, the California Republican who headed the task force. "The only purpose of our trip was to go down and help these people."
The congressmen expected that the INS supervisors in Miami would be frank about the difficulties created by inadequate resources. Instead, Gallegly says, they were shown the Disney version of immigration enforcement. "I kind of walked away scratching my head," he recalls. "It was obvious to me they wanted us to see a finely oiled machine, that they were doing their jobs and there were no problems."
Gallegly didn't witness George Waldroup wrestle Michael Wixted out of the booth. Nor did he or any of the other congressmen see the placards posted in the employee lounge or notice a second confrontation later that afternoon, between the director of the Miami district and the two union men.
As the congressmen were whisked into a conference room, Walter "Dan" Cadman, the district director, accosted Wixted and Boze, who had been tagging along with the group in hopes of speaking directly to the lawmakers. (Boze successfully buttonholed INS Commissioner Doris Meissner briefly, but she reportedly did not react when he complained that the tour was a sham.)
Several people who observed the face-off between Cadman and the two men say that it followed Boze's brief chat with Meissner. Trembling with anger and red in the face, Cadman ordered Wixted and Boze to leave or face arrest. Wixted cheekily observed that the airport was not an INS facility and Cadman was not in charge. "This is not private property," he protested. "I am not breaking any laws by being here." The three men stood there, bristling. Then Cadman called for the police. Wixted and Boze hesitated, but backed down and left the airport.
Cadman rejoined the delegation, accompanying the congressmen on the remainder of their tour, which included a stop at the Krome Detention Center, in Southwest Dade on the fringe of the Everglades.
A few days after the task force's departure, Wixted and Boze called a meeting of their union. As one member after another described what they knew about the visit, it became clear that the ruse had been far more elaborate than the two union officials had imagined.