- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

The House today is considering legislation to comprehensively overhaul the beleaguered Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) while the administration has proposed its own plan. Like student self-grading and voluntary taxes, the administration's plan might sound appealing but will not get the job done. A dramatic reform is needed.

Consider these facts about the performance of today's INS: A backlog of 5 million unadjudicated petitions for immigration benefits forces aliens trying to play by the rules to wait in limbo for years. Thousands wait in line for hours each day at INS offices with an easy question as to whether their benefit application paperwork is all in, yet they can't receive this simple answer via the INS web site or by phone because the agency is still largely paper-based and lacks this 1990s service. I've seen thousands of these files stacked from floor to ceiling in INS offices.

Furthermore, most of today's 8 million illegal aliens are assured that they will never be deported. At least 300,000 criminal and illegal aliens ordered removed by immigration judges have absconded and can't be found by the INS. Americans regularly hear of the agency's latest blunder and observe an agency stumbling from one crisis to the next, with no coherent strategy of how to accomplish its missions.

Successive administrations, both Democratic and Republican, have sought to heal the woes of the INS through money lots of money and internal reorganizations like the administration is currently proposing. The agency's budget has almost quadrupled in the last decade to $5.5 billion this year. Successive internal reorganizations have resulted in an organizational chart more convoluted than the tax code. In short, previous administrative efforts have only made the situation worse. The time for administrative band-aids has passed.

Three weeks ago, I asked the INS for all current policy directives it has issued. The response I received is startling: The directives fill six-and-a-half boxes but contain no index and no way to find a particular directive. How can the 34,000 INS employees follow directives if they can't find them? This is an agency in disarray.

Barbara Jordan's U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recognized in 1997 that the agency's problems were not a lack of funds or a question of whom reported to whom, but a weakness inherent in the structure of the INS. The commission found that the INS suffered from "mission overload" because of the conflict between INS missions of enforcing our nation's immigration laws and providing adjudication and other services to legal aliens. The commission concluded that such a system was "set up for failure" and boldly proposed splitting the INS into two separate agencies. Rep. George Gekas and I have introduced legislation to do this.

Our legislation doesn't just tinker around the edges; it would abolish the INS and create two separate bureaus in the Justice Department to handle the dual immigration functions: one led by a law-enforcement professional to enforce our immigration laws and one led by an expert in benefits adjudication to provide immigration benefits to legal aliens. The importance of these positions requires proven managers with experience and knowledge in these areas. Given the threat posed by al Qaeda and the dysfunctional services side of the INS, we don't have the luxury of providing on-the-job training for senior immigration management.

Each bureau will have a distinct mission, and a single-minded focus, will be able to craft its own policies, and will have its own budget. Immigration enforcement will handle only that; the same goes for citizenship services. No longer will the mission of one be sacrificed for the sake of the other.

I recognize the two bureaus will require coordination so one hand knows what the other is doing. Sometimes the bureaus will come into conflict; consequently, the legislation creates a new associate attorney general for immigration affairs, who will supervise the two bureaus and resolve conflicts between them. This new number three position at the Justice Department will elevate immigration issues from its traditional backwater position at the Justice Department. People listen to FBI or CIA directors; I envision the same for this newly-elevated immigration head.

Putting the INS in charge of reforming itself as the administration proposes doesn't provide the dramatic overhaul needed. A complete split of the immigration responsibilities will provide a framework to place INS employees in positions to succeed and carry out their responsibilities. Americans will know the government can handle enforcing our immigration laws and efficiently deliver the citizenship and immigration services deserving of a nation built on new immigrants.


Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, is chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary.

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