- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

A congressional plan to break the Immigration and Naturalization Service into two bureaus, one for law enforcement and one for services, is important but only a first step to fixing problems with the agency, those on both sides of the immigration issue say.
Last week the House passed a bill, 405-9, to split the INS, and this week two key senators will introduce their own bill. The House and Senate measures are similar except for the way they view the coordinator at the top of the two bureaus. The House would create an associate attorney general to oversee both bureaus, each headed by a director, while the Senate would create a director to oversee two assistant directors.
Nobody can say whether the bureaucratic changes will result in shorter lines, better tracking of visitors to the country and a better system of keeping out dangerous people. But there's a consensus that it can only improve.
"It is utter chaos already at the INS, so can things get any worse? Maybe not," said Greg Siskind, a Nashville, Tenn.-based immigration lawyer who publishes a weekly bulletin on the subject.
Those who deal with services say that dividing the agency would create better chances for advancement for good service managers, who have been passed over in favor of those more focused on enforcement. They hope the arrangement would allow the enforcement side to focus on police functions.
"The foundation for the improvements we would like to see has to be a separation of the service function from the enforcement function," said Warren R. Leiden, an immigration lawyer and member of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, which issued a report to Congress in 1997 recommending that the agency be split.
One of the toughest congressional critics of the INS, Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, voted for the bill, although he said it just scratched the surface of needed reform.
"I like the fact that we have gone on record, 400-some people, saying we want to abolish the INS," Mr. Tancredo said. "It's far more sizzle than it is steak, but I will accept that for the time being, because it is important to move the issue along."
President Bush and several members of Congress had been considering similar proposals for years, but the issue was pushed to the front after September 11 and after news that INS-approved student visas were sent six months later to two of the pilots in the terrorist attacks.
Still to come are decisions about how to split computer systems while allowing both bureaus to have real-time access, and under which bureau border inspections will fall.
Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, said technological updates and improvements may be delayed while the plan is implemented.
"I think in the short term there may be actually a little bit of a setback," he said.
Mr. Miller, who was a staff member on the House immigration subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee two decades ago, said most bureaucracies try to develop systems of their own. That could be a roadblock to sharing information, the basis for better services and better security.

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