A Year in Review: The Department of Homeland Security

February 27, 2004
Contact: Judy Golub
jgolub@aila.org (202) 216-2403
Julia Hendrix
jhendrix@aila.org (202) 216-2404

A Year in Review: The Department of Homeland Security

March 1, 2004 marks the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) assumption of U.S. immigration functions. The American Immigration Lawyers Association offers this assessment:

Inadequate Coordination: Because enforcement and adjudications are two sides of the same coin, AILA has strongly recommended that DHS closely coordinate these two functions that were separated when our immigration functions were reorganized within the DHS. However, close coordination continues to be an unrealized goal within the DHS and between the DHS and other federal agencies including the State Department, Department of Justice, FBI, and CIA.

Inadequate Funding: Inadequate funding long has characterized adjudications. Especially in light of this historical underfunding, it is imperative that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) be accorded adequate resources to do its job. AILA long has supported direct congressional appropriations to supplement the user fees that almost totally fund the USCIS. Such direct congressional appropriations are necessary in order to ensure that the USCIS lets the appropriate people into the country and bars those who mean to do us harm, and adequately delivers services. However, the Administration's FY 2005 budget proposal of $140 million (to supplement user fees) is inadequate. Increasing applicant fees is not the way to put this agency on a firm financial footing. Yet, the agency has proposed fee increases for FY 2005 that would not even touch the backlog. At a time when the quality of service is at an historic low, increases of this magnitude are difficult to justify. Adding insult to injury, the proposed fee increase would force applicants to pay for these failures.

Change the Culture of "No" and Eliminate Delays: Widespread reports of unfair, arbitrary and inconsistent adjudications have reinforced the perception that adjudicators' "fall back" position is "no," notwithstanding the merits of the petition or application. Reinforcing this view are the increased numbers of unnecessary requests for additional information that contribute to the dramatic slowdown in the processing of petitions and applications. While our immigration system has long been characterized by backlogs, delays, and inadequate funding, current backlogs and delays have reached historical levels. Many organizations and individuals are reporting severe delays in processing that have negatively impacted American business and family members. USCIS needs to efficiently and fairly adjudicate petitions and applications.

Recognize the Importance of Immigration at our 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. Unfortunately, current reports suggests that the Custom and Border Protection Bureau (CBP) is giving inadequate attention to immigration and is initiating polices that do not reflect the intricacy of the subject and its importance to our country. To take one example, the "One Face at the Border" program does not ensure that an immigration specialist will be available at secondary inspections. The proposed expansion of US VISIT to our land ports-of-entry is also troubling due to the lack of clarity about the function of this program, inadequate funding and training of staff, impossible deadlines, unresolved issues regarding technology, and other concerns.

Fix the Delays at our Consulates: 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. However, severe delays at the consulates continue to hamper the visa issuance process, with serious consequences for businesses, families, schools and others in the United States. The gridlock that has paralyzed the visa issuance process in the past two years must be resolved - the agencies charged with clearing security checks must be motivated to give these operations the priority that they deserve.

Support and Expand the Role of the Ombudsman: The ombudsman should be empowered to: assist individuals and employers in resolving problems with USCIS, ICE and CBP; identify areas in which individuals and employers have problems in dealing with USCIS, ICE, and CBP; and propose changes in the administrative practices of USCIS, ICE and CBP to mitigate identified problems. The statute, however, restricts the Ombudsman to USCIS. Additionally, the Ombudsman should submit annual reports to Congress on problems and improvements within USCIS, ICE and CBP, and should be provided with sufficient funding to carry out successfully the obligations of this position.

Grant Admission to More Refugees: Of great concern is the small number of refugees that have gained admission into the U.S. during the past two fiscal years. Although 70,000 slots were available for refugee admissions each fiscal year, only about 28,000 refugees were admitted to the U.S. during each year.

Civil Rights Protections are Needed: 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 DHS.

While many, including AILA, have been strongly critical of the DHS's performance in a number of areas, it is both unfair and inaccurate to point fingers at DHS alone. Congress and the Administration need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for how DHS has functioned. The Department of Homeland Security cannot succeed in its mission if it is confronted with conflicting, unfunded, underfunded and complicated mandates.

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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 DHS 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 www.aila.org

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 04030161.