President Bush's choice to head the Immigration and Naturalization Service sailed through a Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, even as he declined to reveal his views on a possible White House policy shift that would grant amnesty to millions of Mexicans living in the United States illegally.
Appearing before an unusually cordial Senate Judiciary subcommittee, James W. Ziglar said his goals for the INS include a change in the agency's culture so that those who come in contact with it "will be treated with respect and dignity."
But he politely deflected questions about a sweeping amnesty proposal being considered by the White House, saying he was not involved in the discussions on it and "did not want to make news." Pressed on the question, Ziglar replied: "Let me say this--I'm not anti-immigrant."
Aside from that issue, the hearing offered every indication that Ziglar, who previously served as the Senate's sergeant-at-arms, will coast into the job. He was endorsed Wednesday by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). "All that's left to be said is, 'Amen, let's vote,' " Daschle said.
Several times during the hearing, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the subcommittee on immigration, noted that the proceeding was "an extraordinary tribute to a nominee."
Ziglar is expected to win the endorsement of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and possibly a floor vote on his confirmation, before Congress takes its August recess.
Ziglar, a boyhood friend of Lott's, had been a managing director of Paine Webber and a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun. But he has no background in immigration law and is poised to take over an agency that is a favorite congressional punching bag.
Indeed, committee members laid out in harsh language Wednesday their deep frustrations with the INS, which has 33,000 employees and a $5.5-billion budget. "You inherit an agency that's a mess," said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio).
Ziglar, 55, also would take the helm at a time when the White House is considering a controversial overhaul of the nation's immigration policy toward Mexico. A White House task force on immigration has been negotiating with Mexican authorities on a range of proposals, including the prospect of granting legal status to the more than 3 million Mexican illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Several senators at a news conference endorsed the amnesty plan, a proposal about which the White House itself appears to remain undecided.