WASHINGTON – When INS officials released illegal alien Lee Boyd Malvo, aka the “sniper,” they were just going by the book.

Yes, U.S. immigration statutes call for removal of such stowaways, but that’s just part of it. There are different INS laws covering different aspects of Malvo’s case.

The Jamaican national didn’t slip through the cracks. He slipped through loopholes in all the red tape regulating immigration in this country.

When aliens jump ship, and are caught, they are supposed to be deported without a hearing and remanded back to the ship under the captain’s custody to depart with the ship.

Only, Malvo and his mother made it to Miami without being caught. They moved all the way to Bellingham, Wash., where they lived for six months before the Border Patrol took them into custody.

The part of the law that critics have overlooked states that once aliens make it into the U.S. from overseas, they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge.

The ship Malvo and his mother snuck into the country on had long departed the United States. And the law says that illegals must depart on the same ship on which they arrive.

So the judge freed the mother on bond, pending a hearing.

Malvo, born Feb. 18, 1985, was a 16-year-old minor. Under the law, he was not considered a primary subject. More, he had no criminal record, and there was no warrant for his arrest at the time.

So he was released into his mother’s custody without bond.

“This is standard operating procedure,” a veteran INS documentation inspector on the West Coast told me. “I am surprised the Border Patrol was able to keep them locked up as long as they did.”

Why didn’t Border Patrol agents just boot them both out of the country when they arrested them?

There are laws governing that, too.

Agents can pick up an illegal alien from Mexico or Canada, take them to the border and cross them over. But that’s because those countries are contiguous territories of the U.S.

Illegals from overseas must depart on the same vessel, ship or aircraft, on which they arrive. If those vessels aren’t available, such illegals are automatically granted a hearing under U.S. law.

Now turn to the case of Nathaniel Osbourne, the Jamaican immigrant who helped the other sniper, John Allen Muhammad, buy the Chevy Caprice used in the terrifying Beltway murders.

He arrived through New York with his mother on Feb. 5, 1996, according to INS records. Osbourne, born July 15, 1976, derived his status as a legal permanent resident through his mother, who derived her status through her parents.

According to U.S. law, any immigrant under the age of 21 can derive legal status through a parent or guardian. Osbourne was 19 at the time he arrived in New York, and therefore qualified for resident status on the same petition submitted by his mother.

If he had waited 17 months, he wouldn’t have been legal – and likely unavailable to help Muhammad buy the used undercover cop car.

But Osbourne, like too many shady immigrants, knew U.S. immigration laws and all their loopholes too well.

The laws often work at cross purposes. Some statutes are designed to enforce our borders, while others are designed to boost immigration, such as the under-21 provision.

And they are maddeningly complex.

To understand how INS officials could have scuttled what appears to have been a clear-cut case for deportation of Malvo, you have to understand the Byzantine rules and procedures they have to navigate every day just to pretend to guard the nation’s ports of entry.

Take the new INS procedures for registering high-risk Middle-Eastern visitors, for example. Those alone run more than 30 pages.

Immigration reformers upset with the handling of the Malvo case should demand, first and foremost, simplification of the INS code, just as tax reformers have demanded simplification of the IRS code.

Both systems have become overly complicated as politicians have tailored the code around special interests – from the dominant nationalities among their constituents to immigration lawyers to corporations seeking certain skilled foreign labor.

But the politicians who write our convoluted immigration laws are rarely trashed by critics, at least not by name. INS field agents make easier targets, even though they are just trying to follow the crazy quilt of rules woven by the politicians.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, I’ve talked to countless inspectors working airports and borders coast to coast. And they are some of the most patriotic Americans you can imagine. They want to do the right thing, but their hands are tied by Washington. If they don’t follow the rules, stick to the protocol, they’ll be punished.

Yes, there are bad apples in the inspection booths — the corrupt, lazy and incompetent – as Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly has pointed out on his top-rated TV show, and columnist Michelle Malkin has documented in her fact-packed new book, “Invasion.”

But many of them became demoralized by the system. It’s no excuse, but they’ve simply shrugged: “If Washington doesn’t care about protecting our borders, why should I?”

And most politicians – with the notable exception of GOP Rep. Tom Tancredo, who heads the House Immigration Reform Caucus – really don’t care about protecting our borders.

Why? Because immigrants are potential voters. They’re also a way to please wealthy immigrant donors lobbying to bring foreign relatives into the country.

Every day, lawmakers phone inspectors and detention officers to demand they release detained or deported illegal aliens, whom they have the nerve to call “constituents,” as if they were voting citizens. Such “congressional inquiries” are made mostly by Democrats, inspectors say, but Republicans also are guilty.

They’re also discouraged from cracking down on illegal foreigners by their bosses here at INS headquarters, who are gulled by the multiculturalists and globalists in the State Department and media.

It took a full year after Sept. 11 for the INS to fingerprint visitors from Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the leading farm systems for al-Qaida and other anti-American terrorists. Even after this newssite published the four-page memo detailing the new policy, officials wouldn’t confirm its existence. They told other media who followed up on our exclusive report that they couldn’t talk about it because it was classified, even though it wasn’t. You’d think they’d be proud of a policy to protect citizens. Not in this town. Not even in this Republican administration.

That’s how deep the immigration problem runs in this country. At its core, it’s an attitude problem.

Actually, that’s where reformers must start. Until we exorcise the political correctness imbued in nearly every politician on the Potomac, we won’t be able to convince them to reform and simplify the laws to make border enforcement the priority.

But if Sept. 11 couldn’t do it, what will?


Previous column:

Saudi suck-ups


Related stories:

INS intensifies screening of certain Arab-Canadians

Saudi Arabia ‘shocked’ to be added to watchlist

Ashcroft: ‘Saudi Arabia ally in war on terrorism’

Saudi panic over Justice memo leads to meeting

INS to vet Indonesia, Malaysia travelers

U.S. gets tough with Paki, Saudi visitors

New INS limits on Mideast visits not so strict

INS crackdown yields few foreign fugitives

U.S. holding Canadian teen in Afghanistan

U.S. still resettling Afghan refugees here

INS agents: Ashcroft’s visa-check plan flawed

INS hasn’t closed terrorist loopholes at airports

INS profiling some young Mideast men

INS terrorist database often crashes

Don’t arrest terrorists, INS tells LAX agents in memo

INS to deport 6,000 Arab aliens on commercial jetliners

INS shutters flight school

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.