May 20, 2002
INS overhaul to begin at top
Public, most employees unlikely to notice changes
By MARCUS STERN
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – Even if Congress makes good on its promise to
relegate the Immigration and Naturalization Service to history's
dust bin, as one lawmaker promised, much will remain
unchanged to the eye of the agency's customers and
It might lose its tarnished name, as Congress is threatening, but
the screening of people and cars at the nation's air, sea and land
entry points and the processing of immigration applications will
continue to be done largely by the same people in the same
What's more, many of the INS' systemic problems are unlikely to
be fixed through management restructuring, because they stem
from the nation's complex and constantly changing patchwork of
immigration laws and practices, according to a trove of reports
over the years.
National mood swings and sharp divisions over the issue have
resulted in laws that in some cases are unenforceable or
unworkable. Without untangling the laws and placing some kind
of check on the rapidly growing immigration caseload, these
problems will continue, many experts say.
"That is correct," agreed Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.,
R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and author
of a sweeping bill abolishing the agency. The House passed it
overwhelmingly in April. "However, changing the laws without
reforming the INS first is simply going to compound the
The fate of the INS has never been murkier.
The Sensenbrenner bill is one of three possibilities. All of them
have a common central objective: separating INS' service and
enforcement functions into separate bureaus.
The major difference is that the Bush administration would keep
them within the INS. Sensenbrenner's bill and one being drafted
by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate
immigration subcommittee, would place them in the Justice
Department under an associate attorney general. That would
eliminate the INS as it exists today. Currently, the INS is an
agency with its own commissioner within the Justice
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge reportedly has favored a
fourth arrangement that is widely considered a long shot:
creating a separate and independent border enforcement
Under that plan, INS inspectors and Border Patrol agents would
join Customs inspectors and Coast Guard officers in the new
border enforcement agency. INS investigators and detention
officers would make up a separate immigration enforcement
bureau focusing on the country's interior. A separate bureau
would handle all of the INS' service functions, such as
adjudicating applications for green cards, work permits and
One thing is clear: The INS' service and enforcement functions
are being split. Even if Congress does nothing in the end, the
administration already has embarked on a major restructuring
that some in the agency hope will avert the more aggressive
action threatened on Capitol Hill.
The $70 million INS restructuring plan is expected to begin in
late June and take 18 months to complete. It would divide the
agency from its existing makeup of three regions and 33 districts
into six service areas and nine enforcement areas.
According to the plan as it was unveiled in November, San Diego
would serve as the headquarters of one enforcement area.
However, INS officials said Friday they are reconsidering that
decision and that the Southern California headquarters could be
INS Commissioner James Ziglar is expected in San Diego next
Friday, where among other things he is planning a
town-hall-style meeting with INS employees.
The thrust of the INS plan is restructuring operations so that
senior officials around the country are not simultaneously
responsible for both service and enforcement activities, as they
Toward that end, the three regional administrators and 33
district directors, who constitute the INS leadership backbone in
the field, will go. The argument is that they each have either
service or enforcement backgrounds and expertise, but as
district directors and regional administrators they have been
overseeing both functions, neither very well.
By replacing the traditional districts and regions with separate
enforcement and service areas, the agency hopes to ensure that
each bureau's entire chain of command will reflect a greater
singleness of purpose, clarity of mission and most importantly,
accountability, said Richard Cravener, the INS' director of
"You won't have conflicting missions," Cravener said.
The changes, he added, will be largely invisible to the agency's
customers and its rank-and-file employees.
"The ports of entry will look identical," he said. "The service
offices will be right where they are and the people who are there
now will still be there."
But the chain of command stretching to Washington behind
those rank-and-file employees will be fully committed either to
service or enforcement, not both. Because of that, Cravener
expects to see productivity rise over time.
"We hope to see greater efficiencies," he said.