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Groups Raise Immigration Issues With DHS Secretary-Designate Ridge

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 03011632 (posted Jan. 16, 2003)"

December 30, 2002

The Honorable Tom Ridge
Secretary-Designate
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary-Designate Ridge:

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, you will be undertaking the important task of determining how best to organize this new agency. We write this letter with the goal of contributing our expertise in immigration law and policy to help make the new department function effectively, efficiently, and fairly. To these ends, we urge that you consider the following:

  • Coordination: While the new agency clearly separates the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, successful adjudication and enforcement initiatives depend on the separated functions being closely coordinated. Such coordination receives inadequate attention in the new law and needs to be addressed through oversight and practice.

  • Both Immigration Functions Important: Enforcement and adjudications are two sides of the same coin and merit equal attention, support, and funding. Because both are essential to enhance our security, equal emphasis needs to be placed on improving services and on effective and fair enforcement. The chronic underfunding of adjudications must not be allowed to continue. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services must be adequately funded and not subject to unfunded, underfunded, complicated, and conflicting mandates. Direct Congressional appropriations must supplement user fees to ensure the effective, efficient, and fair provision of services.

  • Expertise and Accountability: Officials charged with organizing our immigration functions and leading these divisions within the new department should understand immigration policy, recognize the importance of both adjudications and enforcement, and work to ensure the necessary coordination of the separated adjudications and enforcement functions. Furthermore, INS' transition into the new department should be undertaken so as to ensure the full provision of services and effective and fair enforcement, while minimizing disruptions and delays. Officials in charge must remain accountable and willing to address problems that result from this massive reorganization.

  • Ports of Entry: Enforcement and adjudications come together at our ports of entry. Our national and economic security depends on the efficient flow of people and goods at these ports. The new law is silent on how our immigration functions will operate at our ports. It is critical that those responsible for inspections at our entry points be fully aware of, and educated about, the policies and practices of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. To ensure consistent and fair border adjudications, key responsibilities should reside with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel present at each port.

  • Local Immigration Offices: Local offices are the backbone of our immigration functions and must be staffed by knowledgeable people capable of making crucial, often life and death, decisions. These offices must be accessible to the communities they serve and operate within a clear chain of command. These offices must be adequately funded because expertise, accountability, and accessibility alone cannot solve the pervasive financial crisis and resulting backlogs.

  • Visa Policy: With the authority to establish and administer rules governing the granting of visas and other forms of permission given to the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security, it is vitally important that visas be granted to the people who come to build America and denied to those who mean to do us harm. We must balance our national security and economic security needs in recognition that the United States is tied to the rest of the world economically, socially, and politically.

  • Refugees: The Bush Administration recognized the unique needs of asylum claims and created, within INS, a dedicated corps that adjudicated only asylum claims. This year, a similar - and long overdue - refugee corps was established for refugee adjudications overseas. To ensure that refugee and asylum adjudicators are properly trained; that there is a clear line of accountability from headquarters to the field on refugee protection matters; and that flexibility to respond to refugee emergencies is maximized, two dedicated corps for Asylum and Refugee claims should be preserved within the Citizenship and Immigration Services structure.

  • Civil Rights Protections: While the law establishing the new department recognizes the need for internal oversight by including a civil rights officer and a privacy officer, provisions in the bill do not go far enough to empower these officials to effectively protect civil rights and liberties. Such authority is vitally needed, given the scope and authority of the new agency. As the new department takes shape, we look forward to working with you to create effective mechanisms to protect all of our civil rights.

  • Ombudsman: The new law establishes an ombudsman (and local ombudsman offices) and authorizes the ombudsman to identify severe problem areas, report these problems, and propose changes. We strongly urge you to adequately fund this important function and look forward to working with this office at the national and local levels to ensure that the important goals of this office are achieved.

  • Private Sector Liaison and Advisory Councils: The new law mandates that a new Special Assistant to the Secretary be appointed to serve as a private sector liaison to do outreach and evaluate the impact of the department's policies, regulations and actions on the private sector. The new law also creates private sector advisory councils to advise on homeland security policies that affect industry and associations. We urge Congress to adequately fund this new office and ensure that all voices in the private sector are represented and heard. We look forward to working with this new office and participating in the advisory councils.

The largest reorganization of our government in decades will demand the hard work of many people. In carrying out this work, we must balance our national security goals with laws and policies that welcome newcomers and recognize the strong and vital connections between the United States and the rest of the world. We look forward to contributing our expertise to this important endeavor, and will be contacting your office to seek a meeting with you.

Sincerely,

American Immigration Lawyers Association
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO)
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
United Jewish Communities/Washington Action Office