December 23, 2002
Split of troubled INS raises new fear
Dire predictions made about transition ahead
By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – The people who ran the country's immigration
and the naturalization bureaus just couldn't get their act
together. There were constant delays in processing paperwork
for new citizens and breakdowns in communicating with officials
trying to enforce immigration laws.
That scenario played out for decades before 1933 when
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Immigration and
Naturalization Service and put two separate f unctions – law
enforcement and service – under one roof.
"Those two bureaus weren't always responsive to each other,"
said INS historian Marian Smith. "There were communication
Nearly 70 years later, some critics fear that the Bush
administration's split of the INS into two separate bureaus within
the new Department of Homeland Security might generate the
same problems that led to the creation of the agency in the first
Now a single commissioner oversees the $6.3 billion agency,
which processes immigration paperwork and tracks and deports
undocumented immigrants. As an all-in-one agency, however,
the INS has never been able to meet the demands of the
sometimes contradictory assignments it has received since the
days of the Roosevelt administration.
Concern is mounting, especially among immigrant advocates, as
senior INS officials prepare to abolish the agency and shift its
functions from the Department of Justice to the new Department
of Homeland Security.
Beginning March 1 – at least officially – law-enforcement
functions, such as the Border Patrol, will be under the Bureau of
Border Security, and immigrant processing and other services
will be under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration
Separate top-level officials will run the two bureaus following a
transition that may take months.
"Every single one of the functions of the INS requires some
cooperation of enforcement and services," said Jeanne
Butterfield, executive director of the American Immigration
Lawyers Association. "I think the danger is there will be no
coordination between those two sides."
Butterfield and other critics – including former officials – are
making dire predictions during what may be a messy transition,
and beyond. They contend that existing backlogs for citizenship
applications – anywhere from six months to two years around
the country – will get worse before they get better.
The processing for other immigration services – for green cards,
adjustment of status and other benefits – also may stall, they
said. Immigration experts said they are also concerned that
conflicting policies – each bureau will have separate legal staffs –
may undermine the work of both bureaus.
Controversies in Southern California this week illustrated some
of the already existing contradictory immigration policies,
according to analysts. Hundreds of Muslims from a variety of
Middle Eastern countries and North Africa were detained after
they voluntarily showed up at district offices for a special
INS officials found themselves in a conundrum: some of the
Muslims were detained for violating one kind of visa while they
had approvals for other kinds of immigration benefits. "This,"
said one immigration official, "is ridiculous."
Section 471 of the Homeland Security Act calls for the INS to be
abolished. That will occur against the backdrop of an INS
already beset by enormous management challenges, including
its recurring failures to coordinate with other agencies like the
FBI and CIA.
In the meantime, the INS faces complex personnel issues. It is
expected to funnel 36,000 employees into the new Department
of Homeland Security – with 11,000 of them expected to be new
hires next year.
While many INS officials are excited about the possibilities
ahead, "there's a tremendous amount of anxiety within the
agency," said Mike Becraft, deputy INS commissioner who has
been a leading player in the transition. "It's a daunting task, a
seriously daunting task."
Although many Homeland Security flow-charts have been
circulated on Capitol Hill, transition officials are still tinkering
with the plans. There have been some internal conflicts, Becraft
Services vs. enforcement
So far, the Bush administration has favored law-enforcement
backgrounds for those sought to run the "new" immigration
Asa Hutchinson, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration,
has been designated to serve as undersecretary to Tom Ridge,
who has been named as secretary of the new homeland
department. Hutchinson would oversee at least five programs
once in the domain of the INS – the Border Patrol, detention and
removal, intelligence, investigations and inspections.
In an interview, Hutchinson downplayed critics' concerns that
immigration services will take a back seat to law enforcement. "I
think that immigration services will maintain a high level of
importance," he said.
Hutchinson acknowledged that "there are protocols that have to
be worked out, certainly. But, even though we have divided the
services, there has to be strong communication between the
two. We're not here to impede lawful immigration, but to balance
that with enforcement for the protection of our country."
Another former prosecutor, Michael Garcia, recently was named
INS commissioner. He is slated for a senior post in the new
department, officials said.
Navy Secretary Gordon England, nominated to be deputy
secretary, would supervise the as-yet unnamed director for the
Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
While authorities sort out the new structure within the
Department of Homeland Security, other questions remain: what
happens to the district offices, and how will law enforcement and
services work together at the various border crossings, such as
San Diego. In the meantime, the same old INS problems are
likely to continue – red-tape nightmares, misplaced documents
and database problems, immigration experts said.
"Taking a deeply troubled Immigration Service and melding it
into such a massive division, with tens of thousands of
employees, is a recipe for failure," said Angela Kelley, deputy
director with the National Immigration Forum.
INS historian Smith, who supervises a library at immigration
headquarters, said bureaucratic controversies have occurred
throughout the agency's history.
"We see this a lot," she said.
Yet Smith declined to offer any predictions about what happens
after the demise of the INS, or whether history will once again