Letters from the Issue of November 1, 2001

The INS Owes Us an Explanation: But don't expect anything other than self-serving spin

 So Sayeth the Old Spook
Now tell us, would it help to bribe the INS? Bob Norman's article "Admitting Terror" (October 18) was a true public service. It's shameful how indifferent our authorities are regarding immigration. Having lived in Mexico, Uruguay, Spain, and Japan, among other places, I can tell you that those countries make it difficult for foreigners to live there. Ask anyone who has. Bribes help, of course, but a foreigner who risks a Japanese or Mexican prison is out of his mind.

Keep up the great investigative work.

E. Howard Hunt
Biscayne Park

Editor's note: For more than twenty years, Mr. Hunt worked for the Central Intelligence Agency. He later gained notoriety as a member of the Nixon administration's "plumbers" team of covert political operatives.

The INS Owes Us an Explanation
But don't expect anything other than self-serving spin: Regarding Bob Norman's article, it's grimly ironic, to say the least, that the Immigration and Naturalization Service was not even remotely as hard-nosed with deadly terrorists as it was with a helpless child, Elian Gonzalez. Obviously politics was involved, and quite probably anti-Cuban bias, which you wrote about in "Elian Plus One" (April 19). Nevertheless the agency still owes everyone an explanation, especially the loved ones of those killed on September 11.

I doubt, however, that the INS will ever offer much beyond self-serving damage control. Unfortunately the damage caused by Mohamed Atta and his cohorts can never be undone.

Jay Donnegal

Voilà! Here's the Explanation
Spin or not spin? You be the judge: I am writing to you in response to Bob Norman's article "Admitting Terror" with the hope that you run this in its entirety. As the senior manager of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Florida District, responsible for media matters, I am deeply troubled by the manner in which New Times represented information in the article.

I found it to be misleading and inaccurate, based exclusively on the views and opinions of employees who, at best, were not in positions to provide an encompassing or authoritative view of INS operations, policies, and procedures. You provided partial information, and as a result your article was misleading to the extreme.

I do not question the media's right to seek information or investigate situations to determine and subsequently report facts. After all, is that not the aim of responsible journalism? I think you will agree with me that indeed it is. Unfortunately New Times missed the mark in this latest endeavor.

I refer you and your readers to the portion of the article that stated, in part: "INS officials, meanwhile, are quiet on the issue. The agency's spokespeople said none would agree to be interviewed for this article.... INS Washington spokeswoman Kimberly Weissman declined to comment on specific New Times findings...." Actually a Florida District public information officer did speak with reporter Bob Norman at length about the specific issues in his article. Sadly none of that information was presented to your readers. That causes me to question the true intent of New Times's efforts.

Anyone making the assertion that we carry out our responsibilities in a perfunctory fashion is misinformed. Let me be perfectly clear about INS operations within the Florida District. We enforce the immigration laws of this country in a competent and fair manner. We did so in fiscal year 2001 to the tune of more than 60,000 enforcement actions at our ports of entry throughout Florida and the Bahamas. That is 60,000-plus people who were found to be inadmissible to the United States for a variety of reasons.

Those cases were detected and completed by a corps of highly trained, intelligent, and dedicated professional immigration officers. They did their jobs well, and they continue to do so today as they will tomorrow. Those in this business who are successful have shown the ability to perform their law-enforcement responsibilities while accommodating the traveling public. Addressing one does not require the other to be sacrificed. Performing both is the hallmark of professional law enforcement at a port of entry. The vast majority of men and women at our ports of entry are professionals. Let there be no mistake, we are extremely proud of each and every one of them.

Officers who have proven incapable of performing at the level of a professional have left the INS. I imagine there will be a few others who ultimately realize that the badge does not make the person. What they will not realize, however, is that the person makes the badge. They will leave the INS with a bad taste in their mouths, and they will make the front cover of publications such as yours.

It is truly unfortunate that the article did not include the responses we provided. Your readership would have been more informed and aware of the facts related to the issues you chose to highlight. As a member of the community who reads the various offerings available to us, I will take that into consideration next time I pick up a copy of New Times. As the senior manager of this INS district's public-affairs division, I will think long and hard about the extent, if any, of our future dealings with New Times.

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