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...

Miller ultimately complied with Blake's instructions. Several months later he was transferred to the much smaller airport in Tampa, a clear demotion.

Next Blake turned her attention to Krome. Should they transfer some of the detainees in order to relieve the overcrowding? According to the report, she sounded out Cadman, worrying that "if we moved [aliens detained at Krome], we would be construed as having done something wrong, [rather] than if we left them there and we were accused of not being able to handle our workload; that it was a [sic] 50-50 and we were going to lose either way."

Cadman ducked the decision. Better to clear it with the eastern regional office, he advised. (Cadman later denied to OIG investigators that the conversation took place.) According to Blake's testimony, she sought and received permission from the eastern regional office to carry out the transfers.

Blake passed the good news on to Kathy Weiss, administrator of the detention center. By one o'clock that afternoon, Weiss had come up with a plan. It was Friday, June 9. The lawmakers were expected in exactly 24 hours.

In an e-mail, Weiss outlined her proposal to release some 30 to 40 detainees and transfer others to county jails: "We intend to move 40-50 aliens to non-[INS] facilities upstate. The group will include a subgroup destined for New Orleans and another group to be stashed out of sight for cosmetic purposes.... Please advise whether Cubans can be included in the group for temporary non-service detention, bearing in mind the fact that moving them will probably cause the remainder to complain, both to relatives and the congressional delegation."

Forty minutes later Blake wrote back: "Great work so far.... Yes [Cubans could be included in the transfer].... Thanks for your prompt response. Should I stop by Krome at midnight for a drink or will you guys still be working?"

Those two notes would form the crux of the OIG's case against the thirteen supervisors. A senior supervisor who received a copy of the exchange told OIG investigators the messages should have set off "blinking red lights." At the time, however, the notes didn't seem to disturb Blake and Weiss's superiors, much less sound any alarms.

Just hours before the delegation's plane made contact with the Miami tarmac, 58 detainees were released into the community, including 41 Cubans. Among those who were released, 9 had criminal records (4 had done time for charges such as cocaine trafficking and conspiracy to traffic in cocaine), 14 had been denied parole on earlier occasions, and 35 had not been cleared by the Public Health Service. In addition, 45 detainees were sent by bus to the Jackson County jail and 36 were sent to Monroe County jail.

Similar last-minute adjustments had been made at the airport. A dozen additional inspection booths were opened in order to preclude the remotest possibility of a backup. The tiny holding cells behind the inspection area were emptied of all but two aliens with criminal records. (Usually the cells also hold passengers suspected of having fraudulent documents, but employees were instructed to tell the congressmen that only criminal aliens were kept in the cells -- an outright lie.)

At 12:30 p.m. inspector Leonardo Reyes was assigned to process aliens who had been detained and would have normally been kept in the holding cells. "The area was not normal," Reyes told OIG investigators. "The detention cells were clean and open and there were aliens sitting in the back of the room waiting to be processed. The detention cells are usually filthy, smelly, and packed with aliens waiting for processing."

When the delegation appeared, Reyes's supervisor, Jose Leon, fielded questions. As recounted in the OIG report: "Members of the delegation asked Leon, 'What type or class of aliens get detained in the cell?' In accordance with the instructions he had received ... Leon responded, 'Only criminal aliens.' When asked ... whether there is any other reason that aliens would be detained in cells, Leon answered, 'No.'"

Although Valerie Blake admitted to investigators that she was standing "right next to" Leon, she claimed she didn't hear the question. "I might have corrected that misinformation if that's what I had heard, so I'd have to think that I didn't hear it," Blake testified. (According to the report, it was Blake who issued the original instruction to misrepresent the cells' function.)

"On this point, Blake's testimony struck us as incredible," investigators reported. "It is regrettable that the culture at INS appears to be such that inspectors at Leon's level would feel their jobs would be in jeopardy if they failed to obey an order to lie to Congress.... As a management matter, this episode suggests the need for stronger signals to be sent by upper-level INS managers to their employees about integrity, honesty, and complicity in communicating falsehoods to congressional and other fact-finders."

By the time investigators interviewed Valerie Blake, it was October 1995, and they had already gathered enough evidence to corroborate many of the original allegations set forth in the union's memo. Blake and other senior managers knew this, but they continued to dodge questions raised by investigators.

When the OIG investigation was launched that summer, Miami District Director Cadman pledged full cooperation. INS Commissioner Doris Meissner herself professed to be "deeply concerned" and promised that her agency would work closely with the OIG and "report back to Congress expeditiously."

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