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A GOOD JOB FOR A NEW INS



Published: Tue, July 30, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: Somewhere, the fuse on the next terrorist strike against the United States quietly sizzles. Agencies scramble to cut it before the all-but-inevitable bang. And so the Justice Department last week announced a plan to enforce a law requiring all noncitizens to promptly report any change of residence to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. And so, predictably, some immigrant advocates cried foul.

In the months since 9/11, Americans have grappled with the delicate balance between individual rights and the need for security. Troubling questions continue to arise over complex matters such as when, if ever, immigrant suspects can be legitimately detained without due process. Whether foreigners should let their host country know where they're living, however, hardly ranks as a tough call. But even such a common-sense policy will lead to increased chaos until the INS tackles a more imminent threat to the nation's safety: the agency's own incompetence.

The residence reporting law, which has been on the books largely unnoticed for 50 years, will apply to all immigrants in the United States. But just processing the updates from the 10 million here legally -- more than 1 million just in Los Angeles -- is a massive job. Today's INS would almost certainly botch it, creating even more of a bureaucratic nightmare for immigrants already plagued by the agency's sloppy paperwork and erratic policies.

Major makeover

Fortunately, the INS is undergoing a major makeover. With luck and aggressive dogging by Congress, the new INS, in whatever form it takes, will be sufficiently efficient to contend with the avalanche of data -- especially if the agency starts slowly, initially applying the reporting requirement only to newcomers.

Even before addressing the logistics, though, someone needs to write fairness into the law, with a guarantee that the immigrants who fail to comply will almost invariably face no harsher a penalty than a fine. Only in the rarest case -- a terrorism suspect whom the judicial system might otherwise set free -- should the government be allowed to use failure to report a residency change as an expedient to deport someone. And then only with full due-process protections.

With those adjustments, the residency reporting requirement will prove a sensible way for the nation to begin getting a grip on the immigration free-for-all that makes it so absurdly easy for a tiny number of potential mass murderers to disappear amid the law-abiding masses. It's the sort of reasoned, circumscribed adjustment that must be made as people living in the United States -- citizens and foreigners alike -- figure out how to maintain both freedom and security in the age of terrorism.

ADELPHIA ARRESTS SHOW PARTY'S OVER

Dallas Morning News: Remember Gordon Gekko, the ruthless inside trader in the movie "Wall Street"?

Portrayed by actor Michael Douglas, Mr. Gekko knowingly broke the rules and apologized to no one. He measured success in millions of dollars and in the carnage of rivals and innocents. The movie's signature line occurs when Mr. Gekko unabashedly proclaims that "greed is good."

If Hollywood imitates life, the arrest of Adelphia Communications founder John J. Rigas and two of his three sons is fodder for another screenplay. Led away like disgraced Mafia chieftains, they epitomize capitalism's avaricious side.

Federal prosecutors contend Rigas family members and other executives of the publicly traded cable company siphoned off corporate funds for personal loans to buy stock and take vacations, as well as numerous actions that wasted corporate assets and breached fiduciary duties.

Greed and deception

As one Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement official describes it, "This case presents a deeply troubled picture of greed and deception at a large public company. It is a case about betrayal betrayal of shareholders by executives who put their own interests and indeed their pocketbooks first."

Judging from the government's complaint, this case does not stem from competitive pressure that entices top executives recklessly to hide debt or engage in other bookkeeping shenanigans. These men are accused of using corporate assets for personal aggrandizement, the embodiment of greed run amok.

The decision of prosecutors to turn the arrests into a photo opportunity, ironically on the same day as the Congress agreed on tough new accounting rules, underscores the political stakes. It puts a face on the apparent frauds that contributed to Adelphia's bankruptcy. And it shows a willingness for regulators to move swiftly against high-profile breaches of trust. Couple these actions with recent SEC probes of other companies, and the unmistakable message is that there is a speed trap ahead. Driving at the speed limit is recommended.

Capitalism's commission is not to promote the unchecked self-interests of a few top executives, but to honor contracts and promises to investors and employees who are also part of corporate successes. It's a lesson the Rigas family is learning the hard way.




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