San Diego Union-Tribune


Bush's INS pick might be a shoo-in
   But it's said he's a 'blank page' on immigration policy


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said he hadn't seen anything
like it in 39 years in the Senate: the top Democratic and Republican leaders testifying in support of a presidential appointment.

But that's what happened yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi patted backs, shook hands and rallied around President Bush's nominee to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

It was an "an extraordinary tribute to the nominee," Kennedy, D-Mass., said referring to James W. Ziglar. 

It also might have something to do with the fact that Ziglar, 55, has been the Senate sergeant-at-arms for the past two years.

A boyhood friend of Lott and a fellow Mississippian, Ziglar is a longtime
GOP insider with friendships on both sides of the aisle. He is a former
investment banker, one-time Judiciary Committee aide and a former Supreme Court law clerk.

And he's someone with no experience in immigration policy.

"I am aware that criticism has been leveled at the president for nominating someone who has no discernable experience in the field of immigration law and policy," Ziglar said. "I understand and appreciate that perspective."

Ziglar built a reputation as a smooth and efficient manager as
sergeant-at-arms, particularly in the hectic days during the Clinton
impeachment hearings. The position of sergeant-at-arms carries considerable prestige and influence within the upper chamber.

Ziglar, a contributor of thousands of dollars to GOP causes over the years,
remains an enigma to immigration observers. 

"He's a blank page," said Angela Kelley of the National Immigration Forum, an immigration advocacy group based in Washington.

While senators predicted Ziglar would be confirmed easily, they also
described the INS as an agency in need of expert handling because of big
problems: several million backlogged benefit applications, continuing high
levels of illegal immigration, and questions about detention of and asylum for immigrants.

The new commissioner also might have to oversee a carving up of the
sprawling $5 billion agency. The Bush administration has advocated
separating the enforcement and benefits duties of the INS.

Kennedy and Rep. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, described the agency as troubled.
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, called it a mess. Lott said he had jokingly
questioned Ziglar's sanity when he approached him about the job.

"You've been dealt a tough deck of cards," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told

But Ziglar defended the agency he hopes to lead. 

"One would think that everyone and everything is dysfunctional" at the INS, he said. "I do not believe it and neither should you."