Agents of Deception

A congressional delegation inspected Miami's INS operations and found everything to be running smoothly. No wonder. Investigators later discovered they'd been dealing with...

Investigator: "Between the Congress people?"
Blake: "Yes. You don't know these people -- we do."
The INS's relationship with South Florida's Cuban exiles -- Diaz-Balart's and Ros-Lehtinen's bedrock constituents -- had worn raw during the preceding ten months. The rafter crisis in August and September of 1994 had prompted the White House to dramatically alter its traditional policy toward Cuban refugees, to the dismay of the Cuban exile community. Instead of being released into the community, as they had been for years, all Cubans picked up at sea were to be detained indefinitely while their asylum appeals wended through the system.

In May 1995, the policy changed again as the U.S. agreed to return Cuban rafters to the island and resolved to detain all other Cuban refugees, in particular those who attempted to enter the country illegally via the airport. As a result of the new policy, in May and June 1995, the population at Krome ballooned by almost 50 percent. Cots were set up in the recreation room, in the hallways, in every nook and cranny until administrators exhausted all available space.

For weeks INS officials at Krome had urged Cadman to release more detainees, to avail himself of his authority to parole aliens pending resolution of their cases in immigration court. The district director declined, though his frustration was evident in e-mail messages that described Krome as "bursting at the seams" and referred to detainees as "teeming hordes."

Carol Chasse told OIG investigators that "Dan knew very clearly, as did I, that there was going to be an enormous amount of second-guessing of any [release] decision and that we felt it was much better if everybody reached the consensus of what that discretion was going to entail."

Nevertheless, by June 2, with the congressmen's visit just eight days away, Cadman's supervisors in Vermont were becoming jittery. Chasse admitted to OIG investigators that she had ordered her deputy, Michael Devine, to "do whatever it takes to get the population down at Krome." (Chasse would later deny that her concern had anything to do with the upcoming visit.)

Neither Chasse nor Devine provided the Miami district with any concrete suggestions for reducing the population, however, and as the week passed more detainees arrived. There was simply no place to hold the additional people. Originally constructed for the army as a guided-missile site, Krome was commandeered by the INS in 1979 as hundreds of Cuban and Haitian refugees fled their homelands. After a 1992 fire destroyed the male dormitories, the center's capacity shrank from 450 to 226 people, with the men bedding down in the women's dorms, and the women sleeping in the hospital dorm.

On the eve of the congressional visit, the detainee head count was 429. Because of the overcrowding, minors were being housed with convicted criminals, contrary to INS policy, and more than 50 females were sleeping in the lobby of the medical clinic. In an irate e-mail to Cadman, the chief medical officer pointed out that conditions were ripe for an epidemic. Skin and respiratory infections were already on the rise, she warned. Until the overcrowding was solved, she stated, her staff would provide only emergency care.

The same day the medical clinic was virtually shut down, Cadman and his deputy director, Valerie Blake, were prepping supervisors at Miami International Airport for the delegation's imminent arrival. Short, solidly built, and humorless, Blake took control of the meeting.

According to the OIG report, "Blake told Miami airport's managers and supervisors that if the delegation spoke to them, they should avoid discussing substantive issues like staffing and overtime. Blake stated that line inspectors should summon a supervisor in the event a question by the delegation required an extensive answer."

She also instructed managers not to "whine" about staffing shortages, and above all, not to make comparisons with New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, where the same number of foreigners were processed by twice the number of immigration officers working in Miami. Blake suggested to airport supervisors that two particular inspectors, who were "troublemakers" (i.e., closely associated with the union), should be rescheduled in order to prevent contact with the congressmen, and that assignments should be shuffled to reflect ethnic diversity on the inspection floor. In addition, Blake exhorted supervisors "to take whatever liberties they needed to avoid any problems" during the visit, and authorized "whatever overtime would be needed."

Her comments riled Roger Miller, the man in charge of INS operations at the airport, who protested that Blake's instructions "make things look good, when things were not good." According to statements gathered by OIG investigators, Miller told Blake that "members of the Miami airport staff were victims, had nothing to hide, and that he was tired of not having enough people to do the job properly." He refused to order his staff to misrepresent the situation at the airport.

Before Miller could finish speaking, Blake interrupted him. Miller had created his own problems through mismanagement, she said angrily. Carol Chasse would later be dismissive of Miller in interviews with OIG investigators. Miller wasn't even truly in charge of the airport, Chasse insisted. "Well, you know, we weren't just letting Roger and Jerry [his deputy] fumble-futz around on their own," she said. "We were micro-managing the Miami International Airport from the regional level."

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