Admitting Terror

The immigration service's own describe how America failed to protect its borders from the September 11 terrorists

Pizarro resigned after the suicide bombings. He was going to quit in October to return to college anyway; the September 11 attacks just hastened his departure. "A lot of my co-workers were like, “Right on, you showed some balls,'" he says of the e-mail's response. "But I had balls just because I knew I was going to leave anyway. Everybody else there is afraid."

Not quite everybody. Touron, while deeply concerned about his future, says he isn't afraid of the INS. He's always taken his profession as an immigration inspector very seriously -- too seriously, in fact, for his supervisors' taste. He has been a thorn in management's side for years, helping to organize the local union chapter, American Federation of Government Employees 1458, and filing numerous grievances about the agency's lax and sometimes unlawful practices. He says his whistle-blowing doesn't stem from a hatred of the INS; he does it because he loves the job and deeply believes in the need to protect the country's borders.

Touron was patriotic before the recent attacks stirred the spirit of the populace and made waving the Red, White, and Blue fashionable again. A native of New York, his home office includes several paintings and figurines depicting his favorite symbol, the Statue of Liberty. He's proud of his late father, a Cuban immigrant who fought in World War II and served in the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA. As a teenager Touron went to war in Vietnam, where he served a tour of duty on reconnaissance missions as a Marine. In 1975 he became a Miami police officer. The following year doctors diagnosed him with cancer and gave him six months to live. But he beat the disease and rejoined the police department in 1978.

Pizarro, after the September 11 attacks, decided he wouldn't be a stamp monkey anymore. So he quit the INS
Steve Satterwhite
Pizarro, after the September 11 attacks, decided he wouldn't be a stamp monkey anymore. So he quit the INS


Read "Admitting Terror, Part 2", Part 3, and other related New Times stories

After serving in numerous law-enforcement positions, he was assigned in 1986 to work the police detail at MIA, where he learned firsthand of terrorist threats to the United States. That same year, on June 27, INS agents at MIA arrested 21 Egyptian nationals suspected of being potential terrorists. Twelve of them escaped on foot, and some were heard to yell, "Death to Reagan!" as they ran. The incident was never made public, but Touron did not forget it.

In 1991 he joined the INS, and more tragedies soon hit him; Hurricane Andrew destroyed his apartment, and he was stricken with life-threatening heart disease brought on by previous chemotherapy treatments. He is alive today thanks to two pacemakers.

Touron, who is executive vice president of the local union and has represented several INS employees in disputes with management, says his travails have given him the strength to fight the immigration service. His complaints about incompetent managers and shoddy policies have led to various forms of management retaliation, ranging from assignment to menial jobs to bogus reprimands, he claims.

Management's most serious sanction against Touron came this past April 24. INS port director Lee charged him with insubordination, alleging that he refused a command to escort an unrestrained criminal deportee through a public area without backup or radio. Touron admits he didn't follow the order, but says he declined to do so because it violated INS security directives and posed a threat to him and the public. The INS is now taking steps to terminate Touron, while he appeals the charge. He still collects his paycheck, but he isn't allowed to go to work.

Touron acknowledges that making public his grievances in New Times could end any hope of saving his job, but the September 11 attacks compel him to do so. All his official complaints about the lack of immigration enforcement have been ignored. "Who in INS let these guys in? Where was the security? It wasn't there," he says with disgust.

Both Touron and Pizarro, along with union leader King, agree the INS's preoccupation with efficiency rather than enforcement has ruined the service. Frank Gonzalez, who resigned in 1999 after serving seven years as an INS inspector, echoes those sentiments. So does Fernande Bayda, an Egyptian immigrant who served as an INS officer and supervisor for more than eighteen years before retiring in 1999. Two other current inspectors, who feared retaliation if their names were used in this article, tell New Times they feel the same way. All say they believe the INS facilitated more than just air travel: The agency also facilitated the events of September 11.

In September 1994 then-INS commissioner Doris Meissner authored a pamphlet titled "Serving the Customers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service."

"We intend to improve the way we do business," Meissner wrote. "Customer service is a top priority."

It was distributed at airports and other ports of entry around the nation. At MIA, inspectors were given a flier titled "Attitudes to Remember." It includes helpful little reminders such as "Everyone has a good reason for what he/she has done," "Being flexible shows strength," "See others as you want to be seen," and "People are flawed, not evil."

Apparently management didn't have Atta in mind.

"Of course [INS workers] should all be courteous. That isn't the issue," Gonzalez says. "But the visitors aren't customers. The INS isn't selling anything, and they aren't buying. A lot of what they do isn't all that nice. I mean, imagine if we had to say, “Did you enjoy that cavity search, sir? Are you coming back soon?'"

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