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March 13, 2002

President Discusses INS at Press Conference
Excerpts from President's Press Conference

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Q Mr. President, let me look at what happened Monday with the INS visa approvals for Atta and Alshehhi, and ask the requisite three-part question. Let me ask you, first of all, how high did the hair on the back of your neck rise when you heard about that? How can the American people have any faith in the credibility of the INS and its anti-terrorist efforts? And what can you do, both immediately and for the long-term, to assure nothing like that ever happens again?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it got my attention this morning when I read about that. I was stunned, and not happy. Let me put it another way -- I was plenty hot. And I made that clear to people in my administration. I don't know if the Attorney General has acted yet today or not, I haven't seen the wire story, but -- he has. He got the message. And so should the INS.

The INS needs to be reformed. And it's one of the reasons why I called for the separation of the paperwork side of the INS from the enforcement side. And, obviously, the paperwork side needs a lot of work. It's inexcusable. So we've got to reform the INS and we've got to push hard to do so. This is an interesting wake-up call for those who run the INS. We are modernizing our system, John, and it needs to be modernized, so we know who's coming in and who's going out and why they're here.

Q What does this say, sir, about the credibility of the INS and its anti-terrorism -

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it says they've got a lot of work to do. It says that the information system is antiquated. And having said that, they are -- they got the message, and hopefully, they'll reform as quickly as possible. But, yes, it got my attention in a negative way.

Q Mr. President, who do you hold responsible for the failure of the INS this week? I see the Attorney General said he was going to hold individuals responsible -

THE PRESIDENT: Going to do -- hold -

Q Hold individuals responsible.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let's see what the Inspector General comes back with. But obviously, I named a good man to run it, Zigler, and he's held accountable. His responsibility is to reform the INS; let's give him time to do so. He hasn't been there that long. But he now has got another wake-up call. The first wake-up call was from me; this agency needs to be reformed. And secondly, he got another one with this embarrassing disclosure today that, as I mentioned, got the President's attention this morning. I could barely get my coffee down when I opened up my local newspaper. Well, a newspaper. (Laughter.)