Farewell I.N.S.?

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April 27, 2002

Farewell to the I.N.S.

Immigration and Naturalization Service
Immigration and Refugees
United States Politics and Government

In an expression of bipartisan exasperation, the House of
Representatives voted 405 to 9 on Thursday to dismantle the
Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Senate is expected to
deliver the coup de grĂ¢ce soon. Congress has rightly concluded that
the immigration agency's storied incompetence can no longer be
tolerated at a time of growing concerns about border security and
about our open society's ability to keep out terrorists.

There are many reasons to celebrate the demise of the old I.N.S., but
building an effective new system will not be easy. The House bill
would establish two separate immigration agencies, both still within
the Justice Department. One would handle immigration services like
citizenship applications; the other would protect the nation's
borders and enforce the immigration laws. The two bureaus would
report to a new associate attorney general for immigration affairs,
but that office would have no direct budgetary or personnel authority
over the two agencies.

A preferable Senate alternative proposed by Edward Kennedy and Sam
Brownback would also break the I.N.S. into two bureaus, but place
them within a new organization similar to the Federal Bureau of
Investigation. The director, who would report directly to the
attorney general, would control the agency's budget and staff.

The White House should work to ensure that the final legislation
looks more like the Senate's version, and must determine how best to
coordinate the work of the I.N.S. with the patchwork of other federal
agencies involved in border security. Absent so far in the debate has
been a convincing explanation of why the immigration agency should
stay within Justice, where it is a neglected stepchild. Tom Ridge,
the director of homeland security, reportedly favored a bolder plan
to create a new border security agency that would pull together the
I.N.S., the Customs Service and the Coast Guard.

The hurdles entailed in reinventing the I.N.S. will be enormous, and
the Bush administration must ensure that the agency's vital work is
not neglected during the transition. Congress recently approved
useful border security legislation that would create a monitoring
system for foreign students and establish an intelligence database
accessible to both the State Department and the I.N.S.

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company |