The United States' southern border gets all the attention when it comes to immigration, but spending a day with the Detroit district director shows it's not much easier being up north.
Carol Jenifer does not look like a huggable person. She wears her hair in a Marine Corps-style buzz cut and shuns makeup and jewelry. Although she's six feet tall, she seems even taller, carrying herself with a military bearing that reflects her years as a police officer in Washington, D.C. She carries a gold badge that says "District Director" and has just ordered a Glock handgun to keep in her desk. To get inside her office at the U.S.Canada border in Detroit, you need to get by a metal detector and armed employees.
So when one of her clients leaps out of a seat in the waiting room at the Detroit branch of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and gives Jenifer a big hug, it seems somewhat out of place.
"Oh, Miss Jenifer," says Chadia Haidous, a Lebanese immigrant. "I just got sworn in today! I'm an American citizen! And now I don't have to worry about my daughter."
Jenifer, 45, the first AfricanAmerican woman to manage day-to-day operations at one of the 33 INS district offices in the United States, hugs her back and rejoices with the Haidous family.
Moments later, loping up the back steps to her office that overlooks the Detroit River, Jenifer explains that little Alica Haidous, 11, who was born in Senegal, could have faced deportation because her mother was not a U.S. citizen.
"The family was afraid the daughter would have to go back to Senegal unescorted," Jenifer explains. "I could have stuck to the book, but why? I made a heart decision and I made it in the name of family unity. I could have sent her back and had them petition for her, but I didn't. And now it won't happen because we don't treat our citizens like that."
Jenifer, who oversees a hectic operation with a $14 million annual budget, considers herself one of the new breed of INS managers. While the southern border with Mexico draws most of the media attention, INS officials say the northern border has its share of illegal immigrants-they just don't talk about how many.
Therefore, it's her mission to walk a tightrope to satisfy a number of different constituents, from American taxpayers who are disturbed by the large number of illegal aliens entering the country, to immigrants who complain about long lines and insensitive treatment at INS offices.
One of Jenifer's first management decisions was to improve the atmosphere by installing …