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FBI granted expanded immigration enforcement powers

From CNN's Kelli Arena
and Terry Frieden

Attorney General John Ashcroft, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller arrive at the White House for an intelligence meeting with President Bush earlier this week.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, left, and FBI Director Robert Mueller arrive at the White House for an intelligence meeting with President Bush earlier this week.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI now has the authority to detain individuals suspected solely of immigration violations, a power that had long been the province only of agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Justice Department confirmed Wednesday.

Officials acknowledge that February 28, the last day the now-defunct INS was under the umbrella of the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft quietly broadened the FBI authority to hold those suspected of having overstayed their visas, or otherwise being "out of status."

The INS was dismantled March 1, with both its enforcement and service functions transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security.

A Justice Department official stressed the broadened authority does not allow the FBI to open immigration investigations. It is limited to detaining immigration violators during the normal course of antiterrorism investigations, and to instances where immediate action is required.

The FBI has drafted guidance to implement the delegation of authority in a manner that ensures that it is used only in "appropriate situations when public safety requires prompt action," before DHS agents can arrive, a Justice Department Official said.

Government sources said Tuesday that dozens of Iraqi nationals in at least five U.S. cities who are thought to be sympathetic to Saddam Hussein's regime will be detained for immigration violations.

With war imminent, the individuals could pose a danger to Americans or to U.S. interests, the sources said, without revealing more details about the nature of that danger.

Officials note FBI agents had been concerned about cases in which individuals they wanted to detain had to be let go because they had no authority to hold the individuals on immigration infractions while pursuing counter


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