New Homeland Security Measure to Lead to Reorganization of Immigration Agency
November 21, 2002

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service – also known as “the INS”, the federal executive agency charged with the implementation and enforcement of our country’s immigration laws, will cease to exist under a new plan that is about to be signed into law by President Bush. In the past week or so, both houses of Congress have given the go-ahead to a measure authorizing the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that will serve as the umbrella for separate immigration enforcement and immigration benefits branches, as well as many other non-immigration related government offices. The agency will be headed by an official with the title, Secretary of Homeland Security.

So what effect will this legislation have on the day to day functioning of the agency previously known as the INS, and what impact will the new agency have on immigrants in the U.S., both documented and undocumented?

As to the first question, it would not seem there will be any immediate consequences, since such governmental grand plans usually are transitioned into place over extended periods of time. Moreover, since this reorganization comes without any substantive immigration law changes, as far as new immigration benefits or penalties are concerned, it would not appear the average immigrant, whether documented or undocumented, will be significantly affected as a result.

From a big picture point of view, however, the reorganization is major and so are the long term repercussions. Unlike the existing power structure at the INS, where a cabinet level commissioner oversees all immigration service and enforcement functions, the new agency leads to the creation of new, separate sub-agencies, with one being charged with the delivery of immigration services and adjudications functions and a separate department entrusted with immigration enforcement. Although each subagency will have its own captain, the only agency head entrusted with power over both subagencies will be the Secretary of Homeland Security, an official with power over many other non-immigration related functions and whose own familiarity and expertise in immigration law and policy may be minimal at best.

So, in terms of coordinating the two basic functions of our current immigration agency, the adjudication of immigration benefits, and enforcement of our immigration laws, the reorganization is seen by some as a major step backwards. The American Immigration Lawyers Association, a non-partisan, non-political organization (of which I am a member) has taken such a position, stating, through its Executive Director, Jeanne Butterfield, that “effective reform of the INS and an effective Department of Homeland Security require that our immigration functions be both elevated within the new department and reformed… (t)his bill does neither. We cannot fracture the immigration agency into completely separate pieces as this measure does – with enforcement swallowed up in one huge division and services in another, and expect coordination, accountability or adequate attention to the immigration agency’s critical service and enforcement functions.”

In essence, our legislature’s approach to reorganizing the INS is very much a response to September 11 and the threats that global terrorism poses for our country. Most obvious, is the name of the new umbrella agency, the Department of Homeland Security, with the public being given the sense that we are now a much safer nation with such an agency at the helm. And the atmosphere that gave rise to this legislative initiative is one created by certain politicians who assign great blame for our country’s global security shortcomings on the INS, the favorite kicking dog for many a politician over the years. Sadly, it appears that this plan is more form over substance. Although those backing the new plan may have worthwhile and formidable goals, the actual governmental reorganization itself is merely a loud political statement which lacks a solid logical or practical foundation. And as a result, we may very well end up seeing less efficiency and accuracy in the carrying out of both immigration service (benefits) and enforcement functions.

Copyright © 2002-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois