WASHINGTON – Airport immigration inspectors, who are tasked with intercepting terrorists trying to get into the country, complain they are working 16-hour shifts thanks to increased turnover since Sept. 11.

An Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman confirmed that their ranks are thinning, and that those inspectors who remain are having to work overtime.

Russ Bergeron, INS director of media relations, says that a total of 73 immigration inspectors, stationed at sea, air and land ports of entry, have left to take jobs at the Transportation or Treasury departments.

Between Oct. 1 and June 1, the attrition rate for all INS inspectors jumped to 13.2 percent from 8.5 percent over the same period a year earlier, Bergeron told WorldNetDaily.

A separate breakout for departing airport inspectors was not available, he says. There are 4,700 INS inspectors overall.

But inspectors at major international airports around the country say they have been hit particularly hard by the understaffing problem, noting that many of their colleagues have taken higher-paying jobs as sky marshals at the newly formed and well-funded Transportation Security Administration, or TSA.

Airport inspectors are the nation’s first line of defense against terrorists entering the U.S. from overseas.

“Because of chronic understaffing, many of us are working six days a week. Many are being required to involuntarily work on Sundays and holidays, and some are being required to work 16-hour days,” said an inspector at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, where American Airlines is based. “The remaining staff of inspectors is being used up.”

Bergeron says headquarters is aware of the problem.

“Since 9-11, inspectors have been working overtime across-the-board,” he said. “It’s just what has to be done.”

But Bergeron says relief may be on the way in the form of a legislated pay raise.

“Certainly lost personnel to TSA is an issue for us,” he said, “but the president is set to sign an increase (in salaries) which will help a great deal with recruiting and retention.”

He says the bill would lift starting pay for inspectors to $46,469 from $38,406, making INS jobs competitive with sky marshal jobs.

Some inspectors say INS could further aid recruiting by waiving the single-scope background investigations, or SSBIs, for new hires.

“Many, many applicants are not able to pass the SSBI investigations, and are therefore not hired,” said one airport inspector.

He and others say the extensive background check, which takes about 45 days to complete and delays the hiring process, is unnecessary because inspectors rarely need access to highly classified information. Only law-enforcement-sensitive information is needed to do their job, they say.

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