Posted on August 10, 2004

Ridge To Agents: Fight Terrorists With ‘A Smile’

Paul Sperry,, Aug. 10

WASHINGTON — With the nation on high alert for al-Qaida terrorists, the Department of Homeland Security is putting its border officers through “etiquette” classes to soften their image and make them less threatening to arriving foreign immigrants, WorldNetDaily has learned.

Some officers complain that the timing of the move to kinder, gentler immigration inspections is not only odd, but a switch from recent orders.

A month ago, DHS directed officers to get tough on suspicious Pakistani travelers who may be sent to America by Osama bin Laden to join sleeper cells and carry out another attack. They were told to check them for rope burns, bruises and other signs of terrorist-camp training. Officers have since had young male Pakistani passengers rolling up their sleeves at major airports from New York to Los Angeles.

Now they have new marching orders: Greet foreign passengers with “a smile” and say, “Welcome to the United States.” And don’t be so quick to detain suspicious foreigners, DHS advises. After all, they are “our customers.”

Those who flunk the new weeks-long “etiquette” course may be fired, according to training guidelines issued by headquarters for U.S. Customs and Border Protection field directors. CBP, formerly INS, is a bureau of DHS.

“All CBP officers will greet passengers with a smile and say, ‘Welcome to the United States,’“ says one training memo titled “Etiquette.” “Failure to do so may lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.”

Another memo, titled “Exercise of Discretion,” advises CBP officers to think twice about detaining aliens or refusing them entry into the U.S., if it may cause them “undue hardship.”

“Put yourself in the alien’s shoes. Would you not want the officer to consider all flexibility within the law?” the DHS document says. “Compassion goes a long ways in applying discretion.”

The memos, copies of which were obtained by WorldNetDaily, list CBP official Allison Suliveras as the point of contact at headquarters.

At the same time, DHS plans to cut in half the inmate populations of illegal alien detention facilities across the country, as WorldNetDaily also first reported. President Bush, who has proposed giving millions of illegal Mexican aliens amnesty, has been running campaign ads in Spanish to appeal to Hispanic voters ahead of the presidential election.

It’s not immediately clear if the goal to release prisoners is related to the new order to increase “flexibility” at admissions. Passenger complaints about treatment at customs have been on the rise, mostly from men arriving from Pakistan, some of whom are U.S. citizens. Pakistan’s embassy has formally complained to Washington about it singling out its citizens for additional security screening. Pakistan, where bin Laden and members of his inner circle are thought to be hiding, remains an al-Qaida hotbed and an area of concern for border authorities.

At the same time, DHS is trying to merge U.S. Customs and legacy INS in what has become a contentious union. Some of the new rules dictating image and conduct are drawn from Customs, legacy INS inspectors say. Unlike Customs agents who are trained primarily to inspect cargo, immigration inspectors are trained to deal primarily with people, who are unpredictable and oftentimes uncooperative.

Both DHS and CBP spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.

CBP inspectors at major airports say they were flabbergasted when they first learned of the new emphasis on manners at their daily musters late last week — right after headquarters raised the terror threat level to orange, or high.

“Let me get this straight: We are in a war on terrorism and our front-line officers are going to be fired if they don’t smile and say welcome to the United States?” remarked one veteran officer, who asked not to be identified because of a headquarters rule against officers speaking to the press.

In fact, the memos also warn officers against giving the press a “negative impression” of CBP.

Airport and other border inspectors — who are not considered law enforcement officers even though they carry guns — are the nation’s first line of defense against foreign terrorists.

Ironically, CBP Commissioner Robert C. Bonner has held up as an example of exemplary performance an airport inspector who wasn’t exactly polite to a Saudi national before 9-11.

The inspector, Jose Melendez-Perez, said the Saudi visitor, who arrived at Orlando airport a month before the attacks, “gave me the chills.” And he refused to let him into the country.

It turns out the Saudi, Mohammed al-Qahtani, was the 20th hijacker.

In a January hearing before the 9-11 commission, Bonner praised Melendez and proclaimed: “Our priority mission is preventing terrorists from entering the United States.” He repeated the remark in a Feb. 4 memo to all CBP employees.

“So our job is to use our questioning skills — those skills that inspector Melendez has — to make a determination. And then if you’re concerned about somebody, you’re darn right to exclude them from the country by expedited removal,” Bonner testified. “And that’s what we do.”

The new etiquette memos say aliens must still be denied entry if they pose a “terrorist threat.”

But they urge border officers to “exercise descretion” in other cases, “while taking into consideration the totality of circumstances.” One memo asks inspectors to ask “yourself: Is it a minor (or) technical violation?”