January 11, 2002

INS makeover finds few fans on Hill

By August Gribbin
The Washington Times

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is trying to remake itself, but its reorganization plan has drawn criticism as it struggles with more far-reaching congressional proposals to reshape or dismantle the agency.

Attorney General John Ash-croft announced in November that the INS will reform its structure with a plan that fulfills "the president's goals of improving the agency and helping our nation by creating a stronger, more efficient INS."

As Mr. Ashcroft explained, the agency — a major part of the Justice Department — will split into two distinct bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration Services and the Bureau of Immigration Enforcement. Each will be headed by an executive commissioner reporting to the INS commissioner.

The service bureau will process applications for naturalization, asylum and employment authorization. It will handle green-card renewals, various immigration petitions and more.

The enforcement bureau will consolidate the agency's police functions. It will encompass the border patrol, port inspectors and the special agents and investigators assigned to tracking illegal border crossers and those conducting intelligence operations.

Among a host of other headquarters and personnel changes, the agency will create a new Office of Juvenile Affairs that reports directly to the commissioner. The $110 million overhaul — expected to be completed by 2003 — began with the appointment last month of Richard B. Cravener as director of the Office of INS Restructuring. Mr. Cravener had been director of the Houston District office.

Although the reorganization is extensive, many in Congress say it doesn't go far enough. John Fonte, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Hudson Institute, says the proposal is fundamentally flawed:

"The proposal fails to address the major responsibilities of the INS consistent with its statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952. The act requires the INS to prepare mmigrants for citizenship."

Mr. Fonte stresses that the INS proposal refers to "candidates for citizenship" as "customers" to be served, not as people who will be expected to assume the responsibilities of citizenship if they are made "full and equal [members of] our democratic republic."

In an analysis of the INS plan he says, "The tone of this [proposal] sounds as if someone is applying for a driver's license or a business permit."

INS spokesman Bill Stass-berger counters: "Those who take issue with the term `customer' are reading too much into it. We're talking about using best business practices in dealing with people no matter what you call them."

Over the years, there have many plans for revamping the INS and as many calls for disbanding the agency and starting over.

As Colorado Republican Rep. Thomas Tancredo puts it, there is no alternative to replacing the INS because the agency "is incompetent and incapable of protecting the people of the United States." The remark is among the mildest used in criticizing what is widely considered the government's most dysfunctional organization.

More than four years ago, in fact, the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform called for eliminating the agency. It concluded that the immigration "system is set up for failure. No one agency is likely to have the capacity to accomplish all the goals of immigration policy equally well."

In line with the commission's thinking, Mr. Tancredo has proposed scrapping the INS and replacing it with an Immigration Security Agency distinct from the Justice Department. Mr. Tancredo says the new agency would incorporate all the immigration law enforcement functions now divided between the INS, Coast Guard, Customs Service, Agriculture Department and "all the other players with overlapping responsibility and with confusing lines of authority."

Rep. James F. Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and Pennsylvania Republican Rep. George W, Gekas, chairman of the immigration and claims subcommittee, have introduced a competing measure. Their bill also would dismantle the INS.

Like the INS plan, the Sen-senbrenner-Gekas bill would create separate bureaus to deal with services and enforcement. But it would jettison the INS directorship and create in its place an associate attorney general for immigration affairs headquartered in the Justice Department.

Additionally the bill would require development of an Internet-based system that allows people to get information about their immigration applications online. It also requires that the various bureaus' databases be integrated.

Given the events of September 11 and the perceived need for heightening border control and keeping tabs on alien visitors, Capitol insiders say there's likely to be quick action on INS reform measures when Congress returns to work later this month. But a Judiciary Committee staffer says Mr. Sen-senbrenner has not set a date for hearings on the bill. And Mr. Tancredo is still shopping for a senator to cosponsor his measure.

(Reprinted from the Center for Immigration Studies, www.cis.org)

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