A Mess At The INS

ins immigration
Ever since Sept. 11, the Justice Department has been in a rush to round up 314,000 foreign nationals in the U.S. who have been ordered deported — but who have ignored the order.

Legally, they're known as "absconders." CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports on what happened when two bail bondsmen in California went looking for one of the deportees, a Syrian national.

Syria is one of seven nations listed by the State Department as a sponsor of terrorism. And while there is no evidence linking this man to terrorism, he is here illegally. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service ordered the company that guaranteed his bail, Capital Bonding Corp., to produce him for deportation.

As the cameras rolled, two bondsmen tracked the man down and arrested him. When everyone arrived at the INS, the CBS cameras were told to wait outside. CBS microphones, however, picked up an odd thing that happened inside. In spite of the order, the INS said: We don't want him.

"We did not make a demand for this gentleman. We're not taking him into custody," said the immigration officer on duty.

In fact, the INS ordered him freed. And, as it turns out, not for the first time.

"We've delivered this individual twice now and twice he's been refused on orders that were told to us that he was wanted. It's just what we go through," said bond agent Anthony Appello.

Neither the INS nor the Justice Department would talk on camera about this case in particular or the absconder problem in general. Both have acknowledged that their paperwork is slow, they're short on staff and sometimes they just don't have enough room to hold all the aliens being turned in.

"It's very frustrating; a very, very frustrating system," said Vincent Smith, President of Capital Bonding Corp.

Smith says the INS is now freeing 50 percent of the aliens he's been ordered to surrender since Sept. 11.

"A big part of the problem is staffing in the districts," Smith said. "There just aren't that many field officers."

That shortage infuriates INS critics like Dan Stern, ex-director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a policy group which pushes for tougher immigration laws.

"INS has no place to put him," said Stern. "They don't have the detention space. They don't have the personnel to process it. They don't have the personnel to orchestrate the person's departure. So what happens? He walks again, and again, and again. It is a ludicrous situation."

That's especially true for the men engaged in these manhunts. Even if the bondsmen find the alien they're searching for, there's a good chance the INS will just turn him loose again.

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    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.