Monday, April 12, 2004

Immigration agency's cuts likely to hurt


Inside Washington

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WASHINGTON - Everyone wants the federal government to be more efficient. But sometimes, that means local people lose out.

Case in point: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced last week that it will no longer conduct interviews for asylum-seekers in Cincinnati. That will force dozens of immigrants to go to Cleveland.

"These new changes will allow USCIS to be more efficient and effective in delivering customer service," the bureau said in a news release.

The government couldn't say how much money it will save, but it will no longer have to pay for the hotels, meals, and per diems of traveling immigration judges, said Dan Kane, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Local immigration lawyers say it's a lousy deal.

"This is going to be a hardship on any number of people," said Richard Fleischer, an immigration lawyer for 31 years. Many of the asylum-seekers aren't allowed to get a job, making travel - not to mention higher lawyer bills - particularly tough.

The federal "circuit riders" who visited Cincinnati to hear asylum cases would hear dozens of cases in a week or two, visiting the city about four times a year, said Doug Weigle, an immigration lawyer for 27 years.

In 2002, about 1,100 people in Ohio sought asylum, more than in all but five states, according to federal statistics. Asylum seekers in Cincinnati come from all over - India, China, Central America, the Middle East - Weigle said. They must prove they have a well-founded fear of persecution if they are sent home.

"Typically, asylum applicants are not particularly wealthy people," said Robert Cohen, a Columbus lawyer who chairs the state chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "It's just one more way in which the immigration service socks it to 'em."

Hey man, you wanna buy ... An unusual offer came as e-mail this week: an offer to purchase www.jimbunning.com.

The sender identified himself as "Theycallmeacleaner@yahoo.com." It turned out to be a New Jersey man named Tom Terraccino who has bought up political domain names in the past.

Terraccino, who did not return calls or e-mails, rented the domain for www.jimmcgreevey.com last year; Jim McGreevey is the governor of New Jersey. Terraccino also tried to sell www.bobtorricelli.com, named for the former New Jersey senator.

The Philadelphia Inquirer identified Terraccino as a college student trying to make a few bucks. They said he was a registered Republican who described himself as "more right leaning than left leaning."

Bunning's campaign manager, David Young, isn't buying.

"We're just not going to get into a bidding war with some schemer out to try to make a few bucks off Bunning's name," he said. For the record, Bunning's real campaign Web site is www.bunningforsenate.org.

They said it: "Americans would be much better served if the senator from Massachusetts would remember who the enemy is." - Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, responding to Sen. Ted Kennedy's speech in which he called Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam" and accused the president of deceit.

They said it II: "Vice President Dick Cheney threw out the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds' opening game. And President Bush, he threw out the first pitch at the Cardinals' opener. Well, it's nice to see they have the time for that kind of stuff now that everything is under control in Iraq." - Jay Leno.

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Carl Weiser covers Washington news for the Enquirer. E-mail cweiser@gannett.com or call (202) 906-8134.




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