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Ridge to agents: Fight
terrorists with 'a smile'

Posted By Paul Sperry On 08/10/2004 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled


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WASHINGTON – With the nation on high alert for al-Qaida terrorists, the
Department of Homeland Security is putting its border officers through
“etiquette” classes to soften their image and make them less threatening to
arriving foreign immigrants, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Some officers complain that the timing of the move to kinder, gentler
immigration inspections is not only odd, but a switch from recent orders.

A month ago, DHS directed officers to get tough on suspicious Pakistani
travelers who may be sent to America by Osama bin Laden to join sleeper
cells and carry out another attack. href="/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=39188">They were told to check them for
rope burns, bruises and other signs of terrorist-camp training. Officers
have since had young male Pakistani passengers rolling up their sleeves at
major airports from New York to Los Angeles.

Now they have new marching orders: Greet foreign passengers with “a smile”
and say, “Welcome to the United States.” And don’t be so quick to detain
suspicious foreigners, DHS advises. After all, they are “our customers.”

Those who flunk the new weeks-long “etiquette” course may be fired,
according to training guidelines issued by headquarters for U.S. Customs and
Border Protection field directors. CBP, formerly INS, is a bureau of DHS.

“All CBP officers will greet passengers with a smile and say, ‘Welcome to
the United States,’” says one training memo titled “Etiquette.” “Failure to
do so may lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of
employment.”

Another memo, titled “Exercise of Discretion,” advises CBP officers to think
twice about detaining aliens or refusing them entry into the U.S., if it may
cause them “undue hardship.”

“Put yourself in the alien’s shoes. Would you not want the officer to
consider all flexibility within the law?” the DHS document says. “Compassion
goes a long ways in applying discretion.”

The memos, copies of which were obtained by WorldNetDaily, list CBP official
Allison Suliveras as the point of contact at headquarters.

At the same time, DHS plans to cut in half the inmate populations of illegal
alien detention facilities across the country, href="/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=39380">as WorldNetDaily also first
reported. President Bush, who has proposed giving millions of illegal
Mexican aliens amnesty, has been running campaign ads in Spanish to appeal
to Hispanic voters ahead of the presidential election.

It’s not immediately clear if the goal to release prisoners is related to
the new order to increase “flexibility” at admissions. Passenger complaints
about treatment at customs have been on the rise, mostly from men arriving
from Pakistan, some of whom are U.S. citizens. Pakistan’s embassy has formally complained to Washington about it singling
out its citizens for additional security screening
. Pakistan, where bin
Laden and members of his inner circle are thought to be hiding, remains an
al-Qaida hotbed and an area of concern for border authorities.

At the same time, DHS is trying to merge U.S. Customs and legacy INS in what
has become a contentious union. Some of the new rules dictating image and
conduct are drawn from Customs, legacy INS inspectors say. Unlike Customs
agents who are trained primarily to inspect cargo, immigration inspectors
are trained to deal primarily with people, who are unpredictable and
oftentimes uncooperative.

Both DHS and CBP spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.

CBP inspectors at major airports say they were flabbergasted when they first
learned of the new emphasis on manners at their daily musters late last week
– right after headquarters raised the terror threat level to orange, or
high.

“Let me get this straight: We are in a war on terrorism and our front-line
officers are going to be fired if they don’t smile and say welcome to the
United States?” remarked one veteran officer, who asked not to be identified
because of a headquarters rule against officers speaking to the press.

In fact, the memos also warn officers against giving the press a “negative
impression” of CBP.

Airport and other border inspectors – who are not considered law
enforcement officers even though they carry guns – are the nation’s first
line of defense against foreign terrorists.

Ironically, CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner has held up as an example of
exemplary performance an airport inspector who wasn’t exactly polite to a
Saudi national before 9-11.

The inspector, Jose Melendez-Perez, said the Saudi visitor, who arrived at
Orlando airport a month before the attacks, “gave me the chills.” And he
refused to let him into the country.

It turns out the Saudi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was the 20th hijacker.

In a January hearing before the 9-11 commission, Bonner praised Melendez and
proclaimed: “Our priority mission is preventing terrorists from entering the
United States.” He repeated the remark in a Feb. 4 memo to all CBP
employees.

“So our job is to use our questioning skills – those skills that inspector
Melendez has – to make a determination. And then if you’re concerned about
somebody, you’re darn right to exclude them from the country by expedited
removal,” Bonner testified. “And that’s what we do.”

The new etiquette memos say aliens must still be denied entry if they pose a
“terrorist threat.”

But they urge border officers to “exercise descretion” in other cases,
“while taking into consideration the totality of circumstances.” One memo
asks inspectors to ask “yourself: Is it a minor (or) technical violation?”

Previous stories:

Inspectors on high alert for Qaida agents from S. Africa

Pakistan to protest new security rules

Pakistani travelers checked for ‘rope burns’

D.C. hamstrings border inspectors with budget cuts


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