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US Immigration Commissioner Pledges Reforms - 2002-03-20

The head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service is vowing to reform the agency. The INS has come under fire for approving student visas to two of the hijackers involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar appeared before a House International Relations subcommittee Tuesday to answer questions about his agency's authorizing student visas to Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.

The two men are believed to have piloted the two planes that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York.

The INS action revealed last week triggered angry reaction from subcommittee members of both parties.

Chairman George Gekas, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said: "We have determined almost conclusively that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is broken and that we must take giant steps to try to reconstruct it."

The ranking Democrat, Congressman John Conyers of Michigan, said, "The fact that we are operating in a way to determine whether or not we can deal with prominently identified terrorists or not, tells me that the INS is badly in need of restructuring."

Mr. Ziglar agreed, blaming the agency's mishandling of the situation on what he called obsolete technology and overly bureaucratic processes.

He said the INS is moving forward on reform. "We are considering a proposed regulatory change that would result in most visa visitors being admitted for 30 days unless they can make a case for a longer stay in the country," he stressed.

Mohamed Atta and Morwan Al-Shehhi entered the United States on six-months visitor visas. Mr. Ziglar also vowed the agency would have a foreign student tracking system fully in place by end of the year. He also noted administration plans to reorganize the INS and tighten border security.

Some lawmakers appeared skeptical about Mr. Ziglar's commitment to reform, saying previous administrations have promised but not delivered on plans to streamline the long-beleaguered agency. But they offered their full support.