Immigration Organizations Advocate Their Views on Homeland Security

July 16, 2002

Honorable Joseph I. Lieberman
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

          We, the undersigned organizations, write to you to convey our shared views on several immigration-related aspects of the Bush Administration’s recent proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security (DHS).    Your committee soon will be considering legislation to create such a new department.

          We are united in the belief that the Administration proposal to transfer the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to DHS could have a long-lasting detrimental impact on the national immigration system and, over time, undermine our nation’s rich immigration tradition.   Placing all of INS’s functions into a department focused primarily on national security goals suggests that the United States no longer views immigrants as welcome contributors but as potential threats viewed through a terrorist lens.   In this regard, we believe the best option would be to keep all of the INS’s functions out of the new department.

          However, should your committee decide to transfer some or all of the INS’s functions into the new department, we support the inclusion of several basic reforms and protections in the legislation which would help ensure that immigrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees are treated with justice in the future.

          First, no matter where the INS functions are, we strongly believe that the agency should be reorganized consistent with S. 2444, the Immigration Reform, Accountability, Security, and Enforcement Act of 2002.  As before the introduction of the Administration proposal, the need to reform our immigration system remains vital—a failure to act in this regard would only exacerbate the inefficiencies and backlogs which currently plague the INS.

          Second, we support the transfer of the care and custody of unaccompanied alien children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in the Department of Health and Human Services, along with the other reforms in the treatment of unaccompanied alien children found in Title III of S. 2444.   ORR possesses the skill and experience to provide the legal, cultural, and child welfare services necessary to protect these vulnerable children.

          Third, we strongly support and affirm the need for an independent judicial and administrative review system.   We strongly oppose the inclusion of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) within the Department of Homeland Security.  We believe that EOIR, which includes the Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, should be made an independent commission, free from the prosecutorial arm of our immigration system (Department of Justice) and separate from an agency whose mission is national security (Department of Homeland Security).   Underlying this position is the principle that judicial functions should remain independent in order to ensure the fair and objective interpretation of U.S. immigration and asylum laws.

          Fourth, should INS be placed into the new department, we support the creation of a civil rights office to help protect the fundamental rights and liberties of all persons.  An Office of Civil Rights, Immigration, and Privacy within the Department of Homeland Security is particularly essential given that the overarching mission of the new department would be enforcement and national security, which leaves questions as to how civil liberty, immigration and privacy concerns would be addressed.

          Finally, we oppose the transfer of any State Department functions to DHS.  If any current responsibilities of the State Department are transferred to DHS, shared responsibility in this area, in which Homeland Security personnel would provide training and guidance to State Department personnel on the issuance of visas, is a preferable approach to transferring the entire responsibility to the new department.

          Some of our groups support additional reforms, which may be communicated to you under separate cover.    However, we are unified in our strong support for the recommendations outlined above.

          Mr. Chairman, the decisions your committee makes on the structure and functions of the new Department of Homeland Security will have ramifications for years to come, particularly for the millions of immigrants who attempt to enter our country each year.  We ask that you carefully consider our views and include the aforementioned reforms and protections in any final bill approved by your committee.

Thank you for your consideration.

American Immigration Lawyer’s Association
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Immigration and Refugee Services of America
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Asian-Pacific American Legal Consortium
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
United Jewish Communities
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 02071845.