San Diego Union-Tribune

April 28, 2001


Bush to name GOP insider as director of INS 


WASHINGTON -- For two years, James Ziglar has been the sergeant- at-arms and doorkeeper of the Senate. Now President Bush wants him to be the nation's gatekeeper as commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Bush said yesterday he will nominate the former investment banker and lawyer to head the much-troubled immigration service, describing Ziglar as an "experienced manager who will work diligently to reform the INS."

Ziglar, a Mississippi native, has scant background in immigration matters but enjoys close political ties to many GOP senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

His selection marks a turnaround from former President Clinton, who in Doris Meissner selected an INS commissioner with long experience within the agency under Democratic and Republican presidents. Clinton's predecessor, George Bush, had appointed an INS chief with largely political ties rather than an immigration background.

Ziglar, before his appointment two years ago as the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, served as managing director of PaineWebber in New York. Before that, he was an assistant Interior Department secretary
in the Reagan administration.

The position of sergeant-at-arms, which dates to 1798, carries considerable prestige and influence within the upper chamber. It often is awarded by Senate majority leaders to trusted associates who handle more than just the post's wide range of ceremonial, enforcement and support duties.

Ziglar sparked controversy last year by helping Lott hash out a thorny legislative matter, the Conservation and Reinvestment Act.

In the past decade, Ziglar has given thousands of dollars to GOP causes, including the Republican National Committee and senators like Lott, according to federal election records. He gave $25,000 to help fund Bush's inaugural celebration earlier this year.

Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday applauded Ziglar's nomination, which must be confirmed by the Senate.

"Jim Ziglar has my full confidence," Ashcroft said. "His post is a crucial one, because while we must guard our nation's borders with vigilance, we must also remember that the greatness of our nation comes from generations of immigrants."

Bush said in a written statement: "He has strong relationships with Republicans and Democrats in the Congress and has worked in both the public and private sectors. His history of overseeing large organizations and tackling management challenges makes Jim an excellent choice as commissioner of the INS."

Among the candidates for the post were Peter Nunez, former U.S. attorney in San Diego, and former Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Imperial Beach.

The selection of Ziglar came largely as a surprise to most who follow immigration policy and the INS.

"It seems to be a choice out of left field since he has no background in immigration," said Angela Kelley of the National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group.

"But on the other hand we are heartened that (liberal) voices like Senators Patrick Leahy and Paul Wellstone say supportive things about him as a person. We'll try to keep an open mind and hope he will display sensitivity."

Ziglar, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from George Washington University and was a former Justice Department public affairs official and former U.S. Supreme Court law clerk, declined
comment yesterday.

Observers inside and outside the INS say the new commissioner will face serious bureaucratic, management and political challenges within the nearly $5 billion agency.

It faces continuing massive illegal immigration, questions over its enforcement strategy and lengthy backlogs in applications for benefits, such as green cards, work permits and citizenship.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, a member of the House immigration subcommittee, said he hopes Ziglar "has the ability to learn about the job and then come back and be effective in making reforms."

Earlier yesterday, as speculation mounted that Ziglar had the inside track for the INS post, a spokesman for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she hoped Bush would appoint someone "who would fix the INS."

Bush supports plans to create separate chains of command within the INS, one to carry out its enforcement duties and one to process applications for benefits.

Some observers predicted trouble for Ziglar.

"He's picked someone who doesn't know the difference between a MasterCard and a visa," said an immigration advocate who declined to be identified.