AILA's Statement on DHSs Imminent Takeover of our Immigration Functions

Contact: Judith Golub
(202) 216-2403
February 25, 2003

Goodbye to the INS, Hello to the Department of Homeland Security A Statement from the American Immigration Lawyers Association Association

On March 1, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will cease to exist, and the Department of Homeland Security will be put in charge of our immigration functions. AILA offers our expertise on immigration law and policy to help make the new department work. To this end, we have raised the following concerns for the Department’s consideration as it organizes our nation’s immigration functions within the new agency.

  • Coordination: While the new agency clearly separates the two enforcement bureaus from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, successful adjudication and enforcement initiatives depend on their close coordination. 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 Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services must be adequately funded and not subject to unfunded, underfunded, complicated and conflicting mandates. Direct Congressional appropriations needs to 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 the two new enforcement bureaus and the one new services bureau 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, the 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 will 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 law establishing the new department 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 Department of Homeland Security’s authority to establish and administer rules governing the granting of visas, 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 by recognizing that the U.S. is tied to the rest of the world economically, socially, and politically.
  • Refugees: 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 the flexibility to respond to refugee emergencies is maximized, the 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 creating 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.
  • Ombudsman: The new law establishes an ombudsman (and local ombudsman offices) to identify severe problem areas in the delivery of immigration services, report these problems, and propose changes. This important function needs to be adequately funded so that its important goals are achieved.
  • Private Sector Liaison and Advisory Councils: 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.

While many, including AILA, have been strongly critical of the INS’ performance in a number of areas, it is both unfair and inaccurate to point fingers at the INS alone. Congress and the Administration need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for how the INS functioned. Both also need to learn from the past. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security cannot succeed in its mission if it is confronted with similar conflicting, unfunded, underfunded and complicated mandates.

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.

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Founded in 1946, AILA is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides its Members with continuing legal education, information, and professional services. AILA advocates before Congress and the Administration and provides liaison with the INS and other government agencies. AILA is an Affiliated Organization of the American Bar Association.

American Immigration Lawyers Association 918 F Street NW, Washington, DC, 20004-1400 Phone (202) 216-2400; Fax (202) 783-7853

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 03022550.