- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

September 11 has put the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the microscope, but lawmakers say plans to revamp the agency must go far beyond problems exposed by the terrorist attacks.
"With at least 8 million illegal aliens in the U.S., about 5 million immigration applications pending and our national security on the line, Americans cannot wait for another administrative INS reorganization to fail, as it inevitably will," House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said yesterday.
Mr. Sensenbrenner is the sponsor of one of a half-dozen proposals floated to revamp the service. His plan, which will be debated and amended today, would divide the INS into two branches one for processing immigration applications and the other for enforcing immigration law.
Other members want to go further. Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, yesterday announced his own plan to split the service's operations among three federal departments right now the INS is centralized under the Justice Department. Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, also is offering a plan to split the agency.
One thing they all agree on is that some legislation must be moved this year and House leaders concur.
"The president talked about it in the campaign. The president is absolutely correct in the need he perceives. We need to split this off, and have enforcement and immigration separate, and effective," Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said yesterday. "We have been ineffective on both sides of the coin."
Mr. Sensenbrenner's plan calls for a new associate attorney general for Immigration Affairs to oversee the two branches and bring accountability. The office would oversee a Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, and a Bureau of Immigration Enforcement.
INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar said his agency doesn't support or oppose Mr. Sensenbrenner's plan, but is concerned that a new associate attorney general will dilute the existing chain of command.
The Bush administration has its own plan to reorganize the INS, but congressional leaders say reform must come from the outside.
Also today, a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a border-security bill that would require stricter scrutiny of some visas and force agencies to share information useful in tracking immigration violations.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and one of the sponsors of the Senate bill, said the real wake-up call came when an INS contractor last month sent out student visa approvals for two of the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks. All 19 entered the United States legally, but three of the 19 had overstayed their visas and were here illegally at the time of the attack.
"What that meant was, nobody bothered to check the database," she said. "If [INS officials] didn't do that on their own, something is very wrong."
The INS on Monday announced steps designed to address some of those problems.
Effective immediately, students will need visas before they start taking courses. The service prefers that students apply from their home countries, rather than the common practice of entering the United States on a tourist or business visa and then applying for a student visa.
In addition, the service proposed to end the blanket six-month window for tourist or business visas and limit them to the time needed to complete the visit or business.
The border-security bill, which has passed the House, has been held up in the Senate by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat.

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