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Tall Tales at the Border

October 04, 1987

Some stories, an old saying goes, are so good they should be passed along without being "over-verified." INS Regional Commissioner Harold Ezell is fond of telling such tales.

He once angered the entrepreneurs of the Silicon Valley by stating that 25% of their workers were illegal aliens. An INS survey later turned up no more than 8%.

Then there was the time he was speaking out against sanctuary for Salvadorans and said that while Amnesty International had formerly claimed Salvadoran deportees had been victims of mass murder, it had since reversed itself. It turned out no such statements had been made.

Ezell did it again the other day when he told a press conference that a suspected Sikh terrorist had been arrested at the San Ysidro border crossing during a special program designed in part to identify people who match a profile of terrorists. On the surface that's a pretty good yarn, and it makes the INS' special training program seem extremely sharp. However, the facts turned out to be somewhat less titillating.

A North Hollywood man born in India had been searched at the border after a U.S. Customs agent noticed he appeared nervous. A .38-caliber revolver and 11 rounds of ammunition were found hidden in the trunk of his rented car. He was booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center on charges of bringing a weapon into the country illegally but was released the next morning.

"We were blind-sided by the INS talking about this terrorist," said Allan Rappoport, U.S. Customs district director, who pointed out that Ezell may well have been talking about someone who had no connection with terrorism.

Rappoport also said the arrest took place during a normal shift and not during the INS's special training program.

Oh, well. Ezell may not have had his facts quite straight, but it was a heckuva good story.

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