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New Immigration Chief Opposes Big Ditch On Mexican Border

October 26, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The new head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service said Wednesday that he opposed digging a 4 1/2 -mile ditch in Southern California to discourage illegal border crossings from Mexico.

″I don’t think the ditch is a very good idea, but I think some things have to be done along the Southern Border″ to stem illegal crossings, Gene McNary told reporters.

McNary, who was confirmed Tuesday by the Senate to be INS commissioner, said one of his top priorities it ″to get control of the budget, personnel and procurement″ in an agency that was described by a departing official as ″totally disorganized.″

McNary said he wanted to secure the border ″in a humane way,″ adding that repairing fences might be an alternative.

McNary said he accepted as valid some of the criticisms leveled at the agency by Raymond M. Momboisse, the agency’s former general counsel who said ″incompetency at all levels of command render many key officials liable to disciplinary charges.″

But McNary refused to say which of the many criticisms of INS operation in Momboisse’s 22-page memo he considered to be valid.

″I appreciate the memo,″ McNary said. ″He was in a key position, so his ideas, even though they might be biased, are ideas from an insider. I have read the memo and probaby will read it again.″

The new commissioner, who has not been formally sworn into office, said he wanted to centralize the operations of INS, which was criticized earlier this year in a Justice Department audit that found mismanagement and waste.

INS ended the last fiscal year with an estimated $30 million deficit, which one source said resulted from the decentralization of agency operations under McNary’s predecessor, Alan Nelson.

McNary’s comments about the drainage ditch, which has drawn opposition from Hispanic organizations and the Mexican government, indicated the government may scrap plans to build it.

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh has yet to approve construction of the project, which the Border Patrol said would make it harder drivers to smuggle drugs and illegal aliens across the desert near San Diego.

Justice Department spokesman Daniel Eramian said he was unaware of any decision on the issue by the attorney general.

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