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INS in new visa row

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In another embarrassment for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, four Pakistani men were let into the United States last week by the INS office in Norfolk, Virginia, without proper procedures put into place after September 11, Justice Department officials said late Friday.

Although authorities have no information to indicate any of the four has ties to terrorism, state and federal agents are trying to find the men.

The episode prompted an angry memo from James Ziglar, commissioner for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, who vowed to make employees more accountable.

"The days of looking the other way are over," he said. "Effective immediately, I am implementing a zero-tolerance policy with regard to INS employees who fail to abide by headquarters-issued policy and field guidance." He promised violators would be disciplined.

This incident follows a Florida flight school's revelation earlier this month that it had received student visa approval notices for two September 11 hijackers. That incident drew the condemnation of President Bush and many lawmakers.

Justice Department officials expressed frustration with the latest INS misstep, and one described Ziglar as "very unhappy."

The INS, according to Justice officials, had granted visa waivers to four Pakistani crew members from the Russian tanker vessel Progreso, without the necessary supervisory approval when they showed up at the Norfolk port March 16 without visas.

When the ship pulled out of port two days later, the four men were missing.

"Visa waivers are not to be granted to crew members without taking the issue up the chain of command," said one of the Justice officials.

Compounding the problem, according to the Justice officials, the INS improperly entered the date of birth of one of the four men into a database, preventing officials from recognizing that the man had previously been in custody in Chicago on immigration violations. After the men were discovered missing Monday, a second check using the correct date of birth revealed that the Pakistani man had been ordered out of the country from Chicago a few years ago.

Justice officials have emphasized their efforts to tighten immigration controls with the goal of preventing further terrorist attacks in the United States.

A senior Justice Department official said the INS is conducting an internal review of the agency's handling of the Norfolk case.




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