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CONCLUDE PROBE, MAKE FINDINGS PUBLIC

The federal government's investigation into an alleged confrontation between migrant workers and agents of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service last year ought to be completed without delay. The report of its findings should be issued to the public.

The allegations of Herbert Bateman, a Byron farmer, that INS agents fired shots at fleeing, unarmed migrant workers on Bateman's beet farm are serious.

The incident occurred at dawn last Nov. 5. More than 10 months ought to be sufficient time to conduct such an investigation.

Dragging it out for much longer could raise additional questions about the interest of the government in determining the facts and making them public.

By late last year, Genesee County Sheriff Gary Maha and District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, after interviewing several witnesses, had issued their own report. It concluded the INS agents did fire their weapons.

That would confirm what Bateman, 80, and described as being as "honest as the day is long," said an agent replied when Bateman asked what that agent was doing: "I was shooting at their legs and four of 'em got away."

It's true that Western New York lies along an international border, that INS agents have a demanding job enforcing laws concerning migrants in this country illegally -- laws that offend many farmers looking for cheap field labor. But shooting at unarmed migrants -- whether in the country legally or not? That cannot be defended. If it did happen, those responsible should be identified. They should be disciplined for a serious mistake and as a deterrent for others.

A public report, already overdue, could answer questions and would at least indicate dutiful concern about the matter by the Justice Department. Without a report, the public does not know the truth, and as time wears on people will increasingly infer the worst.

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