Set Text Size:




INS Reorganization Letter

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 99052155 (posted May. 21, 1999)"

May 18, 1999

Dear Representative/Senator:

This year, Congress will address an issue of utmost importance to this nation, U.S. citizens and legal immigrants: the reorganization of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). As the federal agency responsible for both enforcing U.S. immigration law and adjudicating applications for naturalization and family and business immigration, it is crucially important that this agency functions efficiently, effectively, and fairly.

The INS has failed to fulfill its dual mission of enforcement and adjudications, a failure for which both the agency and Congress must take responsibility. The INS has not provided timely and consistent service to the hundreds of thousands of people filing applications or petitions (that would unify families and allow business access to needed personnel) or seeking to naturalize. Moreover, it has failed to enforce immigration laws through nationally set priorities, applied consistently and professionally. For its part, Congress has given the agency difficult and often conflicting mandates that it is required to achieve within unrealistic time frames and for which it has provided insufficient funding, especially for adjudications functions.

While Congress and external stakeholders agree that the INS must be restructured, there is less consensus on the kind of restructuring that needs to take place. The undersigned organizations urge that restructuring be based on the following four principles:

  • Separate the Enforcement and Adjudication Functions: These two functions should be separated, with distinct chains of command and career tracks established. Such separation will lead to more clarity of mission and greater accountability from top to bottom, within the two distinct functions, which in turn will lead to more efficient adjudications and more accountable, consistent, and professional enforcement. Furthermore, this separation will work only if the two branches’ missions and tasks are defined carefully. Our Constitutional system of justice always has emphasized the important distinction between judicial and law enforcement functions. In no small part, INS restructuring is directed toward disentangling the agency’s law enforcement functions from its adjudicatory functions.

However, such separation cannot consist simply of moving around organizational boxes. Both functions currently are so entangled that the Services’ effectiveness will not be improved unless the boxes are redefined before they are moved. For example, while some assume INS inspectors belong on the enforcement side of the organization, immigration inspectors have broad and unreviewable adjudicatory authority which needs to be disentangled from their enforcement functions. Likewise, while detention is assumed to belong to "enforcement," the decision to release or detain asylum seekers and other aliens is an adjudicatory function. The Service must separate the role of the police officer who refers cases from the adjudicator who decides them.

At the local level, district offices should be replaced with separate adjudications and enforcement offices. However, any such separation must include a blueprint for liaison between local enforcement and adjudication offices, in order to ensure cooperative working relationships to address cross-cutting issues such as adjudication/release issues relating to detainees and benefit fraud.

  • Appoint a High Level Person at the Top: The Federal government needs to have one full-time, high level person in charge of the nation’s immigration functions. Having one person in charge, with clear lines of authority both horizontally and vertically, would improve accountability by fully integrating policymaking with policy implementation, ensure direct access to high-level officials within the executive branch, and attract top managerial talent. However, the important function this one voice would play would be undercut by splitting the INS into two separate and distinct agencies, each of which would claim to speak for the United States on immigration matters. Such distinct voices would make the goals of agency accountability and a coherent policy more elusive than ever. Put simply, the new agency’s local functions should be split, but the new agency’s national leadership should not.
  • Split the Functions, but Coordinate Support and Other Services: Dividing local adjudication and enforcement operations will benefit both functions, but cost efficiencies and necessary coordination are best served by the sharing of support services such as information. Cost efficiencies and coordination could be achieved, for example, through the use of shared databases and information systems. In addition, personnel in both branches could, with appropriate safeguards, have access to the same information to serve both functions. Furthermore, given that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is unfamiliar with the shared support services required to adjudicate immigration benefits effectively and to enforce our nation’s laws, and administers no other benefit program of such significance, it is imperative that INS’ shared support services remain distinct from the rest of DOJ’s bureaucracy, where the INS’ requirements would be lost within an enforcement-oriented infrastructure.
  • Adequately Fund the Adjudications Function: Enforcement functions are supported by Congressional appropriations. In contrast, high fees, long backlogs, and a pattern and practice of unresponsive and rude service plague the adjudications function of the INS which, while also in the national interest, is supported solely by user fees. Any reorganization needs to ensure that, as the two functions are separated, adequate congressional appropriations are made available to supplement and support the adjudications function, improve customer service, and offset the costs of those adjudications for which no fees are charged.

While many of the undersigned organizations believe that the INS should be an independent agency, given the importance of its mission and size (its budget having grown more than fivefold and its staff doubled over the last decade), others feel it should be elevated within the DOJ. All of us cannot emphasize enough the important role the Immigration and Naturalization Service plays in communities across this country. There is an urgent need for meaningful and responsible reform that will restore credibility to the system so that the INS functions efficiently, effectively and fairly.

INS restructuring is not a dry exercise involving reform of a government bureaucracy. Congress’ decisions in this area will impact directly on the lives of hundreds of thousands of American citizens, businesses, and legal immigrants who daily interact with this system. Making the wrong decision can result in even further delays in citizenship processing, reuniting families, and helping business to acquire the workers they need, and less effective and fair enforcement. We strongly urge you to support an INS restructuring plan guided by the four principles articulated above.

Thank you for your attention to our views.


American Immigration Lawyers Association

B’Nai B’rith International


Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Project

Episcopal Migration Ministries

Ethiopian Community Development Center

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)

Immigration and Refugee Services of America/U.S. Committee for Refugees

Lawyers Committee for Human Rights

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund

National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium

National Council of La Raza

National Immigration Forum

National Immigration Law Center

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NKASEC)

Organization of Chinese Americans

Salvadoran American National Network

United Jewish Communities

United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society

Washington Alliance for Immigrant and Refugee Justice

World Relief Corporation


Sent to House Appropriations & Judiciary Committees, House Leadership, Senate Appropriations & Judiciary Committees, and Senate Leadership.

© 1999, American Immigration Lawyers Association