WASHINGTON — The Immigration and Naturalization Service is trying to speed up its system for granting refugee status and hopes to extend it to 70,000 people this year, the head of the agency said Friday.
INS Commissioner James Ziglar also said a newly created Office of Juvenile Affairs within the agency will work to help the roughly 5,000 juvenile immigrants who enter the country each year unaccompanied by adults.
In remarks before the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant umbrella group based in Washington, Ziglar also touched on the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying that the INS is working with the FBI, the Treasury Department and the Office of Homeland Security to make the nation more secure. He added, however, that the terrorist attacks should not stop the country from encouraging immigration from around the world.
“The events of Sept. 11 were caused by evil, not immigration,” Ziglar said. “We cannot judge immigrants by the actions of terrorists.”
Ziglar said the INS had developed a business-model plan to expedite the granting of refugee status and would work with the State Department to cut through red tape that has prevented the INS from reaching its 70,000-refugee mandate in past years. In the future, Ziglar said, he would like to see the country accept even more refugees and other legal immigrants.
The commissioner noted that he and Homeland Security Director Thomas J. Ridge are working to develop bilateral border policies with Canada and Mexico. Ziglar said American companies need and benefit from immigrant labor, including undocumented immigrants from Mexico.
“If we can find a way to move illegal immigrants into legal channels, we would enable the border patrol to focus on the bad guys coming across the border rather than the people coming across to work,” he said.
Ziglar said that raising the numbers of immigrants who could come here legally would end the human smuggling network that consumes attention along the U.S.-Mexico border.
While the agency will work to encourage immigration, it will maintain a hard line against those who break immigration laws, including those who abuse student visas.
“We’ll be tough in enforcing laws but tender in dealing with people,” he said.
The Office of Juvenile Affairs would work to reunite children with their parents when appropriate and would develop new guidelines for their shelter, care and treatment while they remain in the United States. Funding requires congressional approval.
Ziglar also spoke of his controversial decision to suspend international adoptions from Cambodia. He said the INS had to put the best interests of children ahead of those of U.S. citizens who wanted to adopt. He said the INS often did not have enough information on children from places like Cambodia and Vietnam to determine if they are truly orphans.
“I make no apologies on the INS stance on questionable adoptions,” he said. “We are not going to aid and abet child trafficking.”
But Ziglar said he understands the emotional heartache caused when Americans are told they cannot bring a child back to this country. He said the INS will work to prevent situations in which Americans incorrectly believe they will be able to adopt a child they have traveled abroad to meet.