Adventures in Bureaucracy
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
Christmas is almost upon us. It's no time for stress - remember, enough duct tape can solve almost any giftwrapping problem.

Merry Christmas, Vesele Vanoce and all the rest.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Things are a mess at ICE, according to the Washington Times, but I don't need a news report to tell me that. No, I met up with a friend who recently bailed out of ICE, so I've got first-hand knowledge. The common view seems to be that the merger into DHS was a hostile take-over of INS by Customs, and if you were working for INS when the new department came into being, you're pretty much screwed.

It's kind of funny in a way. Back when I was in INS, the office bull sessions would always come up with the rhetorical "How could INS get any worse?" Well, now we know.
Sunday, December 12, 2004
The Department of Homeland Security: good news for Air Canada.
Saturday, December 11, 2004
Robert Jensen, journalism professor and author, is taken with the idea of an imperial America, and he doesn't seem to like it one little bit. In fact, he proposes "an anti-empire movement -- the joining of anti-war forces with the movement to reject corporate globalization" to make the U.S. government realize that it has lost the war in Iraq. Apparently it's not empire in the traditional sense of holding on to a lot of territory, but rather controlling the flow of oil to force other countries to do our bidding. He concludes by urging pursuit of "the most courageous act of citizenship in the United States today: pledging to dismantle the American empire. The planet's resources do not belong to the United States. The century is not America's. We own neither the world nor time. And if we don't give up the quest -- if we don't find our place in the world instead of on top of the world -- there is little hope for a safe, sane and sustainable future."

Why some people might think of this as simple anti-Americanism is beyond me.
"An exodus of native-born Dutch in search of a new life abroad has reversed immigration flows for the first time since the post-war era." More people are emigrating than immigrating, with a net outflow of over thirteen thousand just in the first six months of this year.
That was fast. On December 3rd Bernard Kerik was nominated to run the Department of Homeland Security. On December 10th he withdrew from consideration. It's a pity, as I've heard that he was actually goal-oriented, and not one of those people intent on creating a departmental fief for personal advancement.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Commentary on the immigration system from another consular officer:

There is no one who knows better than the lowly consular officer or border/port of entry inspector that the system is broken. But please don't blame us functionaries- the blame belongs solely with Congress and, in a larger scope, with the American people. Congress writes the laws that make us give benefits to people who don't deserve it, and the huge amount of abuse tolerated and encouraged by Congress and the public is what makes us all so suspicious of everyone applying for something. I can't tell you the amount of fraud I've seen, and so when I get a legitimate marriage between an American 56 year old woman and a foreign 20 year old man, who don't have a common language between them, and have only met once, at their marriage, I'm sure that that legitimate woman is going to feel that I was unreasonably suspicious of their marriage.

It's one thing to acknowledge that fraud exists, but actually seeing it day in and day out gives you a somewhat different perspective on the issue. Unfortunately, fraud works, and on many different levels. There is fraud with false documents, like the counterfeit green cards, visas and passports, that illegal immigrants use to try to get through the airport or across the border. There are also false documents, like birth certificates, bank books and diplomas, that people use to try to get legitimate visas or passports. Then there are the myriad different schemes to obtain real visas by fraud, with marriages of convenience being the best known.

Catching fraud made inspectional work interesting, but seeing so many people use it to play the system was frustrating in the extreme. I tried tracking some of my cases through the system, but stopped when I saw how many were being rewarded with legal residence.
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
This may be the best website ever. You'll be pleased to know I increased the score for Team USA by an enormous .004 per cent this time.
Give me a break! Here's a word of advice to potential customers from someone who's been to a few countries in his lifetime: real Canadians don't wear uniforms. The only people who wear Canadian paraphernalia overseas are Americans who think they're going incognito. The rest of the world is on to your little trick. If you really want to throw people off the track, tell them you're from Belize. The chances of your meeting anyone who could call you on it are pretty slim.

No need to fear for your business, Mountainair. I'm sure that little primer of all things Canadian will sell really well for all the illegal aliens around the world who buy false Canadian passports. (via PragueBlog)
An interesting take on boredom as the root of all evil, or something like that. The argument explains a lot. Think about all the things that today's teenagers, with more time and money on their hands than they know what to do with, have been getting up to - most of that wouldn't happen if they were toiling away ten hours a day on a farm. I may be on to something here. The whole "boot camp" thing has played itself out on the talk shows, so this could be the next big thing.

OK, so being on a farm didn't exactly cure the personality defects of Paris Hilton or that other one, but that's only because they didn't do enough. Perhaps a nice salt mine somewhere?
Monday, December 06, 2004
Oh good, someone agrees with me on the National Museum of the American Indian. I went, and my first impression was not good. Granted, that may have had something to do with the huge crowds of schoolchildren running about, but the place didn't do much for me. It wasn't so much a negative impression as just something of a let-down. There were some interesting things on exhibit, but not a lot of depth. It's like they wanted to present every indigenous group from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego. The building itself is spectacular, and I'm sure I'll go back to give it another chance, maybe once the hype has faded, the crowds have thinned and they start putting on new exhibits.

But the great thing about Washington museums is that they're free, and I went into the National Gallery this weekend to be confronted once again with modern art. Well, actually I went to do some Christmas shopping in the gift shop, but I'm not a complete philistine, so I had a look around the museum first. Anyhow, the modern art in question was a retrospective of the work of Dan Flavin. His medium was fluorescent light bulbs, and his works consisted of different arrangements of same. Now it was interesting to see, especially the one display with an entire wall of red and blue lights glowing merrily in an otherwise empty room. Why this rises to the level of "art" when people who do the same thing to their houses this time of year are dismissed as trailer trash is beyond me. Actually, some of the stuff would have looked great on an Art Deco facade, but in an empty white room... not so much.

The Flavin retrospective ends at the entrance to the Palaces and Mosques exhibit of Islamic art from the Victoria and Albert, which made for an interesting juxtaposition. People stared at tile and glass, carpet and metalwork, and all sorts of other things from centuries past, proving that a thing of beauty truly is a joy forever. And for some reason, I can't imagine crowds queuing up three hundred years from now to look at different arrangements of light bulbs.
How's your knowledge of geography? Take this quiz and find out. Just remember that if you do, you'll be representing your country, so try not to screw it up. I took it three times today and managed to raise the score of Team USA a dramatic .002 per cent. Unfortunately I got nailed on the ex-Soviet Stans and the microstates of the Pacific on the second time at bat. If the global warming crowd is right, those countries won't even exist in another fifty years, and their populations will be resettled in Los Angeles, Honolulu and Sydney, so why should I bother learning which is which? (via The Glory of Carniola)
Sunday, December 05, 2004
Canada's current head of immigration is in hot water over a program that brings desperately needed skilled workers to Canada - among them "exotic dancers". I just wonder about the bureaucrats who have to assess the qualifications of the applicants. Do they look over photographs and videotapes at the office? Or just take them home for a lonely Friday night, getting paid overtime? Inquiring minds...

Japan apparently has a similar program, and changes to it may spark a diplomatic incident.
Why Lawrence Block is one of my favorite authors:

"Bern, you gotta remember that Patience is a poet."
"Who else would sing haiku?"
"And they're all moody like that, especially the women. It's a good thing most of 'em have basement apartments or they'd be jumping out the window all the time. As it stands they kill themselves left and right."
"Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton."
"That's just the tip of the ice cube, Bern. It's a known phenomenon, poetic depression in women. There's even a name for it."
"The Edna St. Vincent Malaise."

Wednesday, December 01, 2004
You might expect the retirement of Tom Ridge to prompt some sort of comment from me, considering that I work for the man and all. The news swept through the office pretty quickly, and we all got an e-mail with the letter of resignation (which I saw posted on some news website - can't ANYONE in DHS keep a secret?). I don't think it really surprised anybody at work, since the main reaction appeared to be: "Oh."

My office is several layers down in the departmental hierarchy, and I don't think anyone there ever dealt directly with the Secretary's office, so maybe that's why there wasn't much of a reaction. Most of my impressions of the creation of the department are somewhat less than wholly positive, although I don't think that Secretary Ridge was the reason for that. The biggest concerns had to do with the massive reorganization and related issues, many of which have not been resolved. You know, little things like the pay system and a career track. Plus there's the impression that many of the things that have been done are cosmetic, done for public relations reasons only.

Not that the creation of the department was a mistake. There's a lot of potential in shaking up a number of ossified bureaucracies, and while I still worry that the impulse is to go back to the old ways of doing things, I have seen cooperation among different branches that would have been difficult if not impossible when all of them were separate agencies in various departments. My biggest problem with the departmental structure comes not from Secretary Ridge, but from the Homeland Security Act itself. How do you establish an entire department to respond to and prevent terrorist acts when the government's lead agency on the issue isn't even part of it? But the FBI is the lead investigative agency, and they are not part of the DHS structure.

But back to today's news. From my understanding, Secretary Ridge had a good reputation among those who worked with him (unlike, say, John Ashcroft), but that he was not the most effective communicator around. I'm sure DHS headquarters was abuzz with rumors about who will replace him, but in my office, it was business as usual, trying to make headway on the workload.
Brace yourself. Someone went on record as saying something that could be construed as positive about the INS!

One of the most maligned agencies of the 22 now absorbed into DHS was INS
(Immigration and Naturalization Service), now married to US Customs into an
agency with the cool name of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). We have worked with INS agents at home and abroad and have found them hard-working
dedicated professionals doing a job nobody in America
-- besides Michelle Malkin -- wants done. Businesses don't want control of immigration as they draw cheap workers from among the illegals; teacher unions want illegal alien kids enrolled in schools, thus keeping many schools open; a whole swath of liberal advocacy groups don't want strict controls as they seek to promote totally open immigration; the
Democratic Party gets laws passed making it possible for illegal aliens to vote.
And (true confession) The Diplomad's mother wants a cheap maid.

As any FSO who denied a visa or any INS agent who seized an illegal can tell you, often you're just asking for trouble if try to keep somebody out of the US. The same
Congressman who gets on TV to pontificate about the need to control our borders
and enforce our laws, will come down on you like a ton of bricks for denying a
visa or deporting the brother/cousin/girlfriend of a constituent. Ladies and
gentlemen, we got the INS that we wanted.

I think I'm in love.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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