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Posted: 3/19/2002 9:29:29 AM EDT
By RON FOURNIER .c The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - White House advisers, seeking to bolster the nation's porous borders, urged President Bush on Tuesday to ask Congress to merge two federal agencies responsible for border security. Bush has not decided whether to accept the recommendation, which is a response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but is likely to do so, aides said. His domestic security team recommended that the Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which includes the Border Patrol, be merged into a new agency. The Justice Department would oversee the new agency, which would take over enforcement activities from the embattled INS, according to two senior administration officials. The INS and Border Patrol are part of the Justice Department. Customs is part of the Treasury Department. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush's parting words to his advisers were, ``I'll let you know.'' However, he is expected to endorse the plan because it was recommended by the entire homeland security team - including Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, whose department would lose control of the Customs Service, officials said. O'Neill and his staff were not immediately available for comment. Tom Ridge, head of the homeland office, has pushed for the merger since last year in the face of stiff opposition from competing bureaucracies. ``A recommendation has been received by the president that would merge some agencies in a way to help enforce the borders more tightly,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. The plan would require congressional approval. Bush's lobbying team was consulting with Congress Tuesday. ``There is a school of thought that you can have better controls and more effective ways of welcoming people to this country, welcoming trade to this country, while keeping people out who would do us harm as a result of consolidation,'' Fleischer said. Bush's team rejected suggestions to put the office under Ridge's control. Democrats in Congress want to make Ridge's office a Cabinet-level agency that would be subject to congressional oversight. Bush has objected to the idea. The former Pennsylvania governor met with Attorney General John Ashcroft, O'Neill and other members of the homeland security council to discuss the proposal. The recommendation comes as Bush prepares for a four-day trip to Latin America, including Mexico. The trip begins Thursday with a stop in El Paso, Texas, where Bush is expected to discuss border issues. Asked if Bush will announce his decision on the merger Thursday, Fleischer said, ``No. I would not lead you to any such conclusion,'' but officials later said they could not rule out a Thursday announcement. The timing will depend on how consultations go on Capitol Hill, aides said.
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 9:30:39 AM EDT
The proposal could give Congress an opportunity to question the structure of Ridge's office and give critics of INS an opportunity to revamp the agency. The INS was embarrassed by the disclosure that six months after the attacks, it issued paperwork relating to student visas for two of the Sept. 11 hijackers. Several attempts to merge the border agencies have failed in past years, but Bush advisers say they have political momentum in light of the attacks and an increased priority on protecting the nation's borders. Ridge had hoped to make the merger part of Bush's State of the Union address, but was caught off guard by stiff opposition from supporters and critics of the three agencies. AP-NY-03-19-02 1152EST
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 10:02:41 AM EDT
Something has to be done. However without modernization (and the budget) INS where ever it is placed will still be a problem. Probably more good than bad in this idea.
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 10:18:34 AM EDT
on the face of it a good idea. but i fret about further concentration of power, and frankly mr. ridge just makes me nervous.
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 10:33:48 AM EDT
Maybe it's just me, but my initial impression is that it is very reasonable for Customs to be part of the Treasury department.
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 10:58:28 AM EDT
Originally Posted By lurker: on the face of it a good idea. but i fret about further concentration of power, and frankly mr. ridge just makes me nervous.
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Mr. Ridge also makes me nervous.
Link Posted: 3/19/2002 11:07:15 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Francisco_dAnconia: Maybe it's just me, but my initial impression is that it is very reasonable for Customs to be part of the Treasury department.
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Francisco, I do not believe it "just you." From a fiscal standpoint Customs and Treasury have long served us well together. However, if the new consolidation is to change Customs' role-if Customs is to assume a greater role in combating terrorism-then the proposed change also makes some sense. Far from perfect but I still believe more good than bad. (I must add that's my opinion with the limited facts now available.)
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