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Inquiry Finds INS Freed Detainees, Misled Congress

June 21, 1996|WILLIAM BRANIGIN | WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON — Senior officials of the Immigration and Naturalization Service transferred or released dozens of illegal immigrants from detention in Miami last year--including some criminals and people who were not medically cleared--as part of an elaborate attempt to deceive a congressional task force looking into illegal immigration, a Justice Department investigation has found.

After an 11-month inquiry, the department's inspector general concluded that "certain INS senior managers" deliberately misled Congress, INS superiors and Justice Department investigators in a bid to hide a chaotic situation of overcrowding and understaffing, according to a report issued Thursday.

A summary of the 200-page report called for "systemic reform within INS" and recommended the punishment of top officials at the Eastern regional INS headquarters in South Burlington, Vt., and the Miami district office.

In response, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner relieved four senior field managers of their supervisory duties pending a decision by the Justice Department on "appropriate disciplinary action," she said in a statement. Among them are Carol D. Chasse, the INS Eastern regional director, and Walter D. Cadman, the district director in Miami, an INS official said.

The summary of the inspector general's report said that in preparation for a June 10, 1995, fact-finding visit to Miami by seven members of the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform, INS officials transferred or released more than 100 of the 407 illegal immigrants detained at the Krome Service Processing Center to convey an impression of order.

Of 58 immigrants who were released, most of them Cubans or Haitians, 35 had not been medically cleared and at least nine were criminals charged with such offenses as cocaine trafficking and burglary, the report said. The officials also ordered the temporary transfer of 45 detainees to other jails at a cost of more than $10,000, the investigation found.

The probe grew from a letter about the deception sent to Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), chairman of the task force, signed by nearly 50 INS employees in Miami.

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