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Bush 'Plenty Hot' Over INS Foul-Up - 2002-03-14

President Bush wants to know how immigration officials approved student visas for two of the men who led the terrorist attacks on September 11. Their paperwork arrived in the mail at their flight school in Florida Monday, six months after the men died smashing hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center.

President Bush says he was "plenty hot" Wednesday morning when he read that immigration officials sent-out paperwork approving student visas for terrorists Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.

Their visas were approved last July and August before immigration officials had any information linking them to terrorism. A statement from immigration officials blames the delay on what it calls an "antiquated" and "innacurate" processing system.

President Bush says he was "stunned" by what he calls the "embarrasing disclosure" that no one at the Immigration and Naturalization Service stopped the terrorists' paperwork after the September 11 attack. He has ordered Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate how the visa mix-up happened and to make sure it does not happen again. "Obviously the paperwork side needs a lot of work," he said. "It is inexcusable. And so we have got to reform the INS and we have got to push hard to do so. This is an interesting wake-up call for those who run the INS."

The attorney general has directed the Justice Department's Inspector General to find out why immigration officials failed to stop the notfication letters and why it took so long to process them.

President Bush wants to seperate the paperwork side of the immigration service from its enforcement side to better track those who overstay their visas. INS is currently shifting-over to a computer-based system which should allow it to better share information with other agencies.

Mr. Atta and Mr. Al-Shehhi both entered the United States on tourist visas. When they showed-up at Huffman Aviation International in August of 2000 asking for flight lessons, they were told they needed to apply for student visas to enter a training program. Once they did, the men completed their training as flight schools are not required to deny instruction to foreign nationals while awaiting an INS decision on their visas.

Mr. Atta piloted the American Airlines passenger jet that slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Mr. Al-Shehhi was aboard the United Airlines plane that struck the south tower about 17 minutes later.