INS future becoming a 'mess'

By MARK BENJAMIN, UPI Congressional Bureau Chief  |  June 7, 2002 at 4:01 PM
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WASHINGTON, June 7 (UPI) -- President Bush's call for a Homeland Security Department has further complicated the already cloudy future of the beleaguered Immigration and Naturalization Service, immigration experts said Friday.

Bush's plan would put the INS under the control of the new department, but overlaps and sometimes conflicts with Bush's own previous plan to reorganize the INS. Bush's plan also runs counter to bills pending in Congress the administration has also endorsed.

The sometimes-conflicting plans for the future of the INS have created more confusion, some immigration experts said, making uncertain the organization's future mission and chain of command.

"It is really kind of a mess, frankly," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates strict immigration laws. "The administration seems to be in conflict about what they want to do" about the INS, Krikorian said.

Bush Thursday called for the creation of a massive Homeland Security Department, combining agencies as diverse at the Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That proposal would make the INS part of the new Homeland Security Department, ultimately reporting to the new secretary for homeland security, a Cabinet-level post.

But the administration in November 2001 unveiled its own plan to overhaul the INS, creating two separate immigration services and enforcement components that would still report to the attorney general. The Bush plan also reshuffled positions in the agency, including eliminating the INS regional director and district director positions.

At the time, the White House argued against separate legislation in Congress to reorganize the INS. "This plan fulfills the president's goals of improving the agency and helping our nation by creating a stronger, more efficient INS," Attorney General John Ashcroft said at the time.

But in April, the House voted to supersede the Bush plan and passed a bill that would also split the INS in half along similar lines and create a new associate attorney general for immigration affairs, a number three slot at the Justice Department. The vote was fueled by anger after an INS service contractor in March mailed out visa extensions for two of the dead Sept. 11 hijackers.

Just prior to the overwhelming, 405-9 vote for that bill, the administration changed tack and endorsed it with caveats. Ashcroft said then that the House bill was "an important set of first steps essential to the journey's end, but not sufficient to get us there."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration has pledged to work with Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., on another piece of legislation to reorganize the INS into two separate functions. That bill would terminate the INS and create an Immigration Affairs Agency within the Department of Justice headed by a director of Immigration Affairs, similar to the FBI director.

"You've go basically four plans for the INS, so who knows (what's going to happen) at this point," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, which advocates limiting immigration. "This administration is long on announcements and short on fulfilling them."

This latest announcement from the Bush administration with regard to the INS has raised substantive concerns in Congress already. Kennedy said Thursday that placing the INS inside a new Homeland Defense Department might signal a reduced emphasis on immigration services, which Kennedy said was unacceptable.

"In consolidating border security efforts it is important to maintain the necessary balance between immigration enforcement and service functions so that reforms recently enacted by Congress and supported by the administration can be effectively implemented," said Kennedy.

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