- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

For many wanting to find refuge in the United States, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has made a mockery of the phrase, "Land of the Free." As one example, seven years after 282 Chinese refugees risked their lives to come to America smuggled aboard the ship Golden Venture, only an estimated 40 have now received asylum. Most were initially imprisoned. After being freed from jail here, the rest have been deported back to China, have died or are lost in a never ending system of INS bureaucracy and ineptitude. They remain separated from their families and unable to take part in normal civic life. Enter George W. Bush's immigration reform.

For years, the INS has been trying to act as both immigrant policeman and host, being inadequate on both counts. Mr. Bush's proposal would allow the INS to be split into two agencies: one for border protection and interior enforcement, and one for naturalization. He would also allow spouses and minor children of permanent residents to apply for visitor visas which they currently cannot do while their immigration applications are pending. To fight the length of time it takes to process applications, which the Bush campaign says is currently three to five years, Mr. Bush proposed $500 million be spent on hiring new employees and giving pay raises to those who are able to process the applications most expeditiously.

Another INS reform bill, sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, calls for the same reforms and a split in the agency, but with no particular price tag attached. It has already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee. In Mr. Smith's district, for instance, a Mexican 18-year-old daughter of a U.S. citizen had applied for citizenship, but on her 21st birthday the INS still had no answer for her. Now she has to start the process over as an adult applicant, and it may be many more years.

On the Senate side, Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has also sponsored a bill that would reduce the backlog of INS cases with a $127.3 million price tag. The legislation would keep the INS as one agency, but create a separate funding account to provide direct appropriation for additional staff and and computer integration without increasing application fees. It would also introduce accountability measures, such as reports filed by the Department of Justice which would track the agency's processing progress.

Boasting the lowest unemployment in 30 years, and a market starving for workers, the United States can't afford to wait indefinitely to push these proposals through. With a clear bipartisan effort to support INS reform, and a presidential platform to discuss it, there may be hope for refugees like those that rode on the Golden Venture.

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