BLOOMINGTON (AP) -- The wait at the main Immigration and Naturalization Service office for Minnesota and the Dakotas isn't nearly as cold and uncomfortable as it used to be.
Instead of standing in an unheated tent outside for hours just to get into the building in Bloomington, INS visitors now will find heaters and chairs in the tent and an additional waiting room inside.
U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton stepped in after reading a news report about the situation. A few letters and phone calls got things changed -- quickly.
"The best part of my job is to be able to do something that directly helps people," said Dayton, D-Minn. "In this case my office was able to assist INS in expediting some of the governmental, bureaucratic things that can slow something down."
INS officials had been working on the problem, and added the tent as a recent improvement. But Dayton was able to get the General Services Administration, which needed to sign off on leasing additional space, to make the INS request a priority. And INS officials outside Minnesota also had to approve the changes.
Some days the lines are so long that hundreds of people are turned away; other days, everyone who shows up is helped.
"There seem to be fluctuations from week to week and even day to day that make it very difficult to predict the way it's going to go," INS spokesman Tim Counts said.
The number of people seeking services at the office increased dramatically about eight months ago, Counts said. And heightened security concerns following the Sept. 11 attacks added another wrinkle.
INS officials are working on a long-term solution, which probably will mean leasing additional space in the building or relocating, Counts said.
Dayton will visit the office Monday to see how things are going.
"I wanted people to be warm and reasonably comfortable and safe immediately," Dayton said. "And from what I understand, that's occurred in one week's time. And for government, that's pretty darn good."
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