By Sergio Bustos
The Arizona Republic
WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 The embattled Immigration and Naturalization Service soon could be broken into two agencies with different missions.
That's what two key lawmakers, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., proposed Tuesday when they introduced a bill in the House to overhaul the INS.
The lawmakers want the INS split so one agency would enforce immigration laws and the other would process paperwork for millions of immigrants wanting to live and work in the United States.
Under the bill, the newly formed INS would be managed by the Agency for Immigration Affairs, a new office in the Justice Department. A new position, associate attorney general for immigration affairs, would be created within the Justice Department.
Both lawmakers said the INS has failed in its dual job.
To illustrate their point, they said the enforcement side of the INS does not know the whereabouts of about 250,000 illegal immigrants whom immigration judges have already ordered deported.
"When 250,000 illegal aliens have been deported yet are now missing and cannot be found by the INS, a new way of doing business is in order," Sensen-brenner said.
On the service side, the lawmakers point out that the INS backlog of immigration applications has grown to 4.9 million. Permanent residency or "green card" applications take up to two years to be approved.
"Trying to manage so many people handling conflicting missions is doomed to fail," Gekas said. "Our legislation will create clear chains of command."
Criticism of the INS is nothing new on Capitol Hill. But that criticism has intensified since the Sept. 11 attacks because several of the 19 hijackers had remained in country after their visas had expired. Six others may have entered the country illegally, suggesting that they may have crossed the border from Canada or Mexico. Keeping track of such immigrants is the INS' job.
Breaking up the INS also isn't a new idea. The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended it in 1996 as part of a sweeping plan to rewrite immigration laws. President Bush promised to do the same during the campaign.
Even with two agencies to split the work, the job of the INS is daunting. Last year, it inspected more than 500 million individuals at more than 200 seaports, airports and land borders. It also handles millions of citizenship and residency applications.
Recognizing the huge demands made of the INS, Congress tripled its budget to $5 billion in the past decade. But a chorus of lawmakers remains unhappy with the efforts to protect the nation's border and welcome new immigrants.
"Taxpayers aren't getting their money's worth," Sensenbrenner said. "The INS is failing to treat the good guys fairly and failing to keep the bad guys out. This legislation will restructure an agency burdened by mission overload."