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Jewish World Review April 30, 2002 / 18 Iyar, 5762

Jan C. Ting

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Reorganization plans ignore the real problems at the INS -- Congress and the Bush administration want to reorganize the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service by splitting it in two, one half to enforce immigration law against violators, and one half to provide services to aliens and their sponsors seeking immigration benefits.

The mistaken assumption is that the problems of the INS are caused by mission conflict between law enforcement and delivery of immigration benefits. But the main problem at the INS is not mission conflict; it's mission overload. Splitting the INS is the wrong solution - and may aggravate the problems of the INS by introducing greater turmoil as employees, responsibilities, and caseloads are transferred during the reorganization.

The INS has been unable to find an estimated 10 million illegal aliens in the United States who have entered without inspection or overstayed temporary visas. Of those the INS has caught, more than 300,000 have absconded even after being ordered removed by an immigration judge and exhausting all their appeal rights. The agency has a reputation for slow and sloppy service (think of the furor over delivering notice of student visas for two of the Sept. 11 hijackers six months after the terrorist attack). The proposed reorganization of INS addresses none of those problems.

The INS conducts more than 500 million inspections every year of individuals, both aliens and citizens, seeking to enter the United States. It does this with about 5,000 inspectors. The INS's Border Patrol is responsible for securing 6,000 miles of land border with fewer than 13,000 employees. The Detention and Deportation branch is able, with fewer than 4,000 employees, to maintain only 20,000 detention beds for aliens pending their removal from the United States. To track down the 10 million illegals and the 300,000 absconders, the INS has 2,000 investigators. Do the math!

Demand for INS services, meanwhile, has exploded. The 7.9 million applications for benefits in 2001 was 31 percent greater than the number in 2000. The 7.4 million applications for naturalization received in the four years ending in 2001 was greater than the total number received in the previous 42 years. The INS has fewer than 7,000 adjudicators and service-center employees to handle this workload.

Even so, Congress and the Bush administration maintain that the key problems of the INS can be solved by changing the lines on an organizational chart. All this does is provide cover for politicians who need to "do something" about an agency struggling under an overwhelming workload. Politicians make the workload worse when they propose new immigration benefits and complex amnesty relief provisions.

Even if the INS is divided as proposed, the employees of each bureau will still have to be cross-trained. Services employees must understand enforcement to know which aliens are not entitled to benefits. Enforcement employees must understand benefits to know which aliens should not be deported because they are entitled to status here. The problem within the INS has never been too much communication; it has been too little. That's what allows visa letters to be sent to dead hijackers. Dividing the agency will aggravate rather than ameliorate that problem.

The fundamental solution is more resources and personnel. Doubling or tripling the INS's annual budget would be a more expensive but more realistic way of addressing its problems. But the real long-term solution is for both Congress and the administration to make immigration-law enforcement a national security priority. Maybe, before Sept. 11, we could have tolerated a schizophrenic immigration policy, fluctuating between tougher immigration laws and looser enforcement. We could have allowed corporate interests that favor lax enforcement because it makes it easier to hire low-cost immigrant labor. But Sept. 11 taught us all the consequences of having borders that are too open for our own good.

If we must have a bureaucratic reorganization, let's have one that elevates border security to a national priority. Let's make border enforcement a cabinet-level department. Combine the INS with other border enforcement agencies, the Customs Service, Department of Agriculture inspectors, Department of State visa officers, the Coast Guard. All these agencies are currently subordinated to larger departments with different missions. Greater coordination of effort, not division of effort, is what is needed at the INS and at America's borders.

JWR contributor Jan C. Ting is professor of law at the James E. Beasley School of Law, Temple University. He was appointed Assistant Commissioner at the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1990, and served there until 1993. Comment by clicking here.

12/31/01: What the 'shoe-bomber' knew that we continue to ignore

© 2001, Jan C. Ting