Hasta la Vista, Ziglar: Some accountability, however belated.

By Mark Krikorian on August 20, 2002

National Review Online, August 20, 2002

James Ziglar, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, announced his "retirement" Friday after barely one year in office. This comes just a month after the "retirement" of Mary Ryan, the State Department official in charge of issuing visas. Thus, two people with key border-control responsibilities have finally been held accountable for what happened on Sept. 11.

Better late than never, one might say - but it's a bad sign that neither was removed in the immediate aftermath of September 11. They left only after highly publicized scandals provoked an outcry: Ryan was ousted after NR exposed the visa mill in Saudi Arabia, known as Visa Express, which used travel agents to help decide which Wahhabi fanatics got permission to travel to the U.S.; and Ziglar was shown the door only after a series of screwups ludicrous even by INS standards - most notably, the visa notifications mailed to two terrorists six months after the attacks.

There's also no guarantee that Ziglar's replacement will be any better. After all, the State Department has nominated a clone to succeed Mary Ryan, and an important member of Ziglar's team remains dangerously in place: INS policy director Stuart Anderson, a libertarian ideologue who has crusaded tirelessly for years, in and out of government, for open borders.

What neither Ziglar nor Ryan appreciated - and what even the White House doesn't seem to have fully taken to heart - is that in this war the "home front" is a literal description, not a figure of speech intended to motivate the citizenry to recycle their old tires, as it was during World War II. In fact, the home front is the primary front, since the enemy is not trying to defeat our armies in the field but rather to kill our children in their beds. Thus immigration control is of paramount importance; defeating and discrediting radical Islam is the ultimate objective, but our first goal has to be to keep the enemy from crossing our borders and ferreting out those who have already made it in.

And there's plenty of work to do in this regard; the Center for Immigration Studies released a report this summer detailing the immigration histories of the 48 al Qaeda operatives known to have been in the U.S. over the past decade. The report found that every aspect of the immigration system had been penetrated by the enemy - many were visa overstayers, others snuck across the border, others were legal residents, or asylum applicants, or even naturalized citizens.

In this context, Ziglar's mantra - that the attacks were "caused by evil, not immigration" - was especially bizarre. While it was, and remains, necessary to point out that only a small fraction of the foreign-born harbor hatred of America, such an observation should have been a parenthetical statement in a broader call for tighter borders. Instead, it was the headline for Ziglar's response to 9/11.

In a sense, he was the perfect pre-Sept. 11 INS commissioner - a former corporate executive and self-described libertarian who saw his job as no more than handing out green cards with as little fuss as possible. That changed last fall and he suddenly became the wrong man for the job.

An indication of Ziglar's out-of-step views on immigration is the deep disappointment at the news of his departure from advocates for mass immigration. Jeanne Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (and, before that, of the Marxist Palestine Solidarity Committee), said "I think he has been a very calm voice of reason reminding us not to equate immigrants with terror." And Angela Kelley, assistant director of the open-borders National Immigration Forum, was effusive: She said the loss of his "visionary, strong leadership," which had been "pushing back when certain others wanted to put unreasonable and uncalled-for pressure on immigrant communities across the country in the name of counterterrorism," was "a huge blow."

Reason enough for him to leave.

Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a Visiting Fellow at the Nixon Center, and an NRO contributor.