Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday announced a restructuring of the Immigration and Naturalization Service that will separate the agency’s service and law-enforcement functions a two-year plan that will begin within the next 30 days.
“The terrorist attacks of September 11 underscored in the most painful way for Americans that we need better control over individuals coming to our shores from other nations,” Mr. Ashcroft said at a press conference, noting that all 19 hijackers involved in the attacks had entered the country legally.
“We remain a nation committed to welcoming America’s friends from abroad, but we have a new determination not to see our welcome abused by America’s enemies,” he said. “The restructuring plan provides a framework that will allow INS to better address its dual priorities of serving new immigrants and enforcing the nation’s immigration law.”
Under the plan, which will be presented today to Congress, clear and separate chains of command for the agency’s service and law-enforcement functions are created eliminating what Mr. Ashcroft described as “layers of management” between field offices and headquarters and promoting accountability by providing overall direction under a single agency head.
“President Bush is concerned that the INS has been hindered by the current structure of the agency to perform its responsibilities of welcoming new immigrants and protecting our borders by enforcing immigration laws,” he said. “This plan fulfills the president’s goals of improving the agency and helping our nation by creating a stronger, more efficient INS.”
INS Commissioner James Ziglar, who attended the press conference, said the plan provides overall direction under a single agency head who will “coordinate and balance service and enforcement to effectively administer and enforce our nation’s immigration laws and policies.”
“Such oversight is essential because immigration enforcement and services are intertwined in statute and policy,” Mr. Ziglar said.
Mr. Ashcroft listed the plan’s major elements as:
Splitting immigration services and immigration enforcement into two separate bureaus.
Providing “clarity of function” by improving accountability and professionalism through a chain of command with specific expertise at all levels.
Maintaining a strong leader at the top and a unified office of general counsel to allow swift and decisive action in times of crisis.
Forming an integrated law-enforcement organization that can respond quickly to combat terrorism, human-smuggling operations and legal-immigration activities at the border and in the interior.
Ensuring that the agency maintains access to relevant enforcement data in adjudicating benefit applications.
Creating an ombudsman in the INS Bureau of Immigration Enforcement to provide the public with a means to communicate concerns and complaints.
Establishing the Office of Juvenile Affairs, which will report to the commissioner, to coordinate and standardize INS decision-making on issues affecting unaccompanied minors.
Under the plan, Mr. Ziglar will appoint a director of restructuring who will work with field managers to immediately change the reporting relationships while plans for permanent agency restructuring are implemented and finalized.
“With support from Congress, we anticipate the reform to begin promptly and to be completed by the end of FY [fiscal year] 2003,” Mr. Ziglar said.