Congressman seeks investigation into release of illegal immigrants

Friday, July 19th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ U.S. Rep. John Sullivan on Thursday requested that the Immigration and Naturalization Service conduct a formal investigation into the release of 18 allegedly illegal immigrants.

Tulsa County sheriffs deputies detained the 18 after a traffic stop early Wednesday, but later released them at the request of the INS.

Two of the immigrants, including one who had a Texas driver's license but said he was an illegal alien, were driving the other 16 Mexican nationals from Houston to New York or Chicago, Capt. Bill Bass said.

Bass said deputies contacted the INS, which told them to detain all 18 immigrants. But after two hours, the agency asked the department to let them all go, Bass said.

The INS said its agents in Oklahoma City were unable to respond because of limited resources. A statement from the agency also said the INS Dallas district office is reminding its field agents of the service's policy to always respond to local law enforcement's calls for help.

Sullivan, R-Okla., sent a letter Thursday to INS Commissioner James Ziglar, asking him to identify the official who allowed the 18 to go free and say how that person will be reprimanded.

``The excuse that the INS is underfunded and undermanned is an overused excuse,'' Sullivan said. ``Between 1993 and 2002, Congress roughly quadrupled INS' operating budget.''

In addition to investigating the incident in Tulsa County, Sullivan asked Ziglar to report back to him the number of similar incidents INS has had in the past five years.

Sullivan also asked Ziglar to contact local authorities in Oklahoma and ``begin finding ways to work together to ensure this kind of event never happens in Oklahoma again.''

A spokesman for Ziglar said the commissioner will respond to Sullivan's concerns.

``A mistake was made,'' he said, adding that INS officials also are interested in making sure it never happens again.

In a separate statement, Sullivan called the agency's reaction in the Tulsa County case ``unacceptable.''

``I want to know why the INS did not enforce the laws on the books, especially during this time of increased national security. Protection of our nation begins at our borders,'' he said.