- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 25, 2002

Reform of the Immigration and Naturalization Service has been kicking about Washington for years, but it took September 11, and the revelation that the INS sent new student visas to two of the hijackers six months after the attacks, to force the issue onto the legislative front-burner.

Today, the House will take the first major legislative step to dismantle the INS when it is expected to pass a bill that would divide the agency in two, splitting the functions of service for immigrants and enforcement of immigration law.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would create a new position, an associate attorney general for immigration affairs, and create separate agencies for services and enforcement, both of which report to the new associate attorney general.

The bill passed the panel with only two votes against it, both from Democrats, and is expected to win approval on the House floor.

"The INS, I've said, should stand for 'Ignoring National Security.' This has been long overdue," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., Oklahoma Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference.

The Bush administration, which has floated its own ideas for restructuring the INS internally, yesterday announced qualified support of Mr. Sensenbrenner's plan. Meanwhile, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, plan to announce their own plan next week and hope to have administration support for their plan as well.

Lawmakers say there is an inherent conflict in charging the INS with both enforcing the laws against illegal immigrants and administering services to immigrants, both legal and illegal.

All the plans split those duties, and they all agree that more high-level accountability on immigration enforcement is necessary. But they differ over how many federal departments will control those functions and over where the buck should stop.

The Kennedy-Brownback bill would establish a new Immigration Affairs Agency within the Justice Department headed by a director, similar to the FBI's present arrangement.

"The big stumbling block is how high of a lead person the agency is going to have should it be a Cabinet-level position or should it be a lower-level associate attorney general," said Dave Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports the Sensenbrenner bill.

The Bush administration had opposed legislative action, arguing that the INS could reform itself. But legislators and other observers say the INS has implemented a half-dozen plans over the past two decades with little to show for it.

"We just can't afford the luxury of allowing that agency to waste more time and more resources and possibly fail again," said Robert Charles Hill, who was on the Jordan Commission that spent five years in the early 1990s studying immigration.

Mr. Hill supports an alternate plan proposed by Rep. Jim Kolbe, Arizona Republican, that would divide functions among several departments immigrant services would be handled by the State Department, enforcement would be handled by the Justice Department and labor issues would be handled by the Labor Department.

"While there are a lot of things within the Sensenbrenner bill that make sense you still come up with the same basic formula two incompatible functions within a single agency, ultimately reporting to one head, competing for resources," he said.

Another critic is Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, who has a plan of his own that divides immigration functions.

Mr. Tancredo said the Sensenbrenner plan shuffles offices and names but doesn't create any new accountability. He said proof of that is the fact that James Ziglar, the current INS director, has been mentioned as a candidate to fill the associate attorney general's slot.

"It's the same people, different titles, reporting to one person who will probably be Ziglar," he said.

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