INS Shuffle In Wake Of Visa Flap

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) shoots against Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard (12) in the second half of Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference basketball finals Friday, May 22, 2009, in Cleveland. James' 3-point shot as time expired gave the Cavaliers a 96-95 win to even the best-of-seven series at 1-1. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes, Pool)
AP Photo/Jeff Haynes
Four mid-level Immigration and Naturalization Service managers were reassigned Friday, reports CBS News Correspondent Stephanie Lambidakis, in the wake of the agency issuing visa approval notices for two of the hijackers six months after they flew airliners into the World Trade Center.

The immigration commissioner, James Ziglar, said the breakdown that led to the notices being issued "is unacceptable and will not be allowed." No one was fired.

The Justice Department said these changes were already in the works, but were speeded up after what one department official the "debacle" over the hijackers' student visas.

"Our pledge is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's immigration system," Ziglar said in a press release.

Attorney General John D. Ashcroft also asked Congress on Friday to give him back authority to fire INS employees for violating Justice Department rules. That power was not included in the current budget proposal.

"It is essential that I have the authority to quickly discipline or terminate individuals for acts of negligence, mismanagement or disregard for Department of Justice policies," Ashcroft said.

The changes at INS, affecting four career employees, came just two days after President Bush ordered Ashcroft to investigate the latest embarrassment to hit the beleaguered agency. Officials did not identify the four employees reassigned, citing privacy laws, but provided the names for their replacements.

Ashcroft has asked the Justice Department inspector general to investigate what happened. The attorney general on Thursday threatened to "hold individuals accountable," and called this week's incident "inexcusable, in my judgment."

On Monday, Huffman Aviation in Venice, Fla., received student visa approval forms for Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, two of the terrorists who flew hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center. The two trained at Huffman in 2000 and early 2001 and applied for visas to attend technical schools.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Thursday that the approvals offer new evidence why the Immigration and Naturalization Service should be abolished.

"It certainly showed how incompetent the INS is," Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said on CBS News' The Early Show. "Congress in 1996 told them to get a student visa tracking system and provided the money for it, and they never got around to doing it. So it is one fiasco after the other."

Immigration officials have said that the visa for Atta, an Egyptian, was approved in July and the visa for Al-Shehhi, from the United Arab Emirates, the following month. The paperwork received by the flight school was a routine repeat of notifications the INS had given the men and the school last summer.

The changes at INS include:

  • Renee Harris, former acting deputy chief for the Border Patrol, becomes acting director for international affairs.
  • Johnny Williams becomes executive associate commissioner for field operations. He had been regional director for the western region.
  • Janis Sposato, former special counsel to the commissioner, becomes assistant deputy executive associate commissioner for immigration services.
  • Michael Cronin was named assistant commissioner for inspections. He had been acting executive associate commissioner in the office of programs.