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Reflections on the Good Men and Women of INS
by Jose Latour

Tell you what, guys. You missed a HELL of a staff meeting last Tuesday. Lorenzo gave us a step-by-step account of his tour of the Texas Service Center. By the time he finished, it was like...well, it was like "you'd a-been there."

I've never been, and while the workings of the Service Center were intriguing (you can read his articles on the visit at, I was more interested in listening to his description of his tour guide and the other employees. I forget that I'm the only person at our office who has really had an opportunity to work closely with INS personnel, mostly during my time along the Mexican border. Lorenzo came back with a distinct sense of appreciation for their efforts, and I think he really succeeded in relaying the reality of the monumental challenges the Service Centers face before an apathetic U.S. population and, accordingly, U.S. Congress.

The INS officer who led the tour regaled Lorenzo and the other attorney visitors with story after story of attorney misconduct, abuse, and egregiousness, as well as with stories of resource shortfalls. On the former, I get militant, as I remember the downright arrogant attitude of so many attorneys calling me when I was a consular officer, "demanding" things which were wholly within my adjudicatory discretion. On the latter, I must wrestle the Republican Automaton inside of me, which callously responds that "no matter how much we give them, they misspend it..." Well, yes, sometimes. But in the case of the Service Centers -- at least the one Lorenzo saw with his own eyes -- it is about money and resources. Not enough people and not enough phone lines to get the monumental task done. Everyone, though, has a suggested answer.

The anti-immigration answer: curtail immigration and scale down INS resources accordingly.

The pro-immigrant lobby groups, including immigration attorneys: increase resources to reflect demand.

And so the dance continues on the floor of politics, a never-ending waltz which defies the logic of long term planning and is relegated to Presidential terms of office, partisanship, and who has the better lobbyists. In the middle are the good men and women of INS, the ones you rarely hear us talk about.

Last week I told you about the smiling INS officer in St. Thomas -- the woman of Indian heritage -- who scared the bejeezuz out of me by being so disarmingly charming. I made the point as if to say "look, they are all so mean, I saw a really nice one and she shocked me." But then I listened to Lorenzo and I thought more about it. What about the hundreds -- HUNDREDS -- of times I've entered the U.S. via Miami or L.A. or New York or wherever and haven't been greeted by a super charming face but by a kind "hello" or just a friendly nod? Why didn't I tell you about those, that vast majority in the middle? I suppose because they are not as "newsworthy" as the delightful woman in St. Thomas or the "couple of dozen" jerks I've witnessed over the years. Those hundreds of officers quietly going about their business with common courtesy but not putting on a show for me didn't get a mention.

So I am telling you about them today. The truth is that the good men and women of the INS are the good men and women of America, a representative cross-section of our wonderful culture, complete with virtues and vices, freckles and dimples and funny accents, a slice of this big old pie we like to think of as a "Melting Pot." They are no more and no less than the rest of us. I suppose it is never too late for another resolution, but I'm going to try really hard to remember the sentiments Lorenzo expressed to us at the staff meeting and try to keep that feeling of appreciation alive the next time I enter the U.S. Isn't it nice to know that you can't bribe your way into this country? Isn't it good to know that, unlike a sizeable number of countries on this planet, there's no danger of disappearing into a back room and emerging bruised and physically battered, with your wallet emptied? We should not take that for granted, ever.

Lorenzo told me that although he knew we were always polite on the phone with the INS and they were talking about other attorneys, he still felt embarrassed at the way attorneys are perceived, as a group, by the INS. Shoot, I'm embarrassed by the way attorneys are perceived by society, but I have my theory. Unlike the civil law system, which trains lawyers to be truth-finders, our common law system trains lawyers to be adversaries, i.e., aggressive jerks, Dobermans. But that's another column.

Good Men and Women of the INS: enjoy your weekend and if you are working this weekend keeping the bad guys out, enjoy your next days off. The next cold one I tip back will be in your honor.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.