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Kill INS to Save Its Mission

June 05, 2002

Feared by immigrants, despised by nativists, scorned by employers and rendered uselessly bureaucratic by public officials, the old Immigration and Naturalization Service may be coming to an end. And not a day too soon.

The national chorus calling for change in the long-troubled agency includes President Bush.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) has introduced a bill (S-2444) that seeks to terminate the INS and replace it with a new Immigration Affairs Agency within the Justice Department. The House has passed a similar bill, but Kennedy's is the stronger of the two.

Kennedy's bill seeks to bring the immigration system into the 21st century by recognizing that most people who come to the United States share the honorable motivations that have always led people here, while forcefully addressing the relative few who arrive with less noble aims, including terrorism. And it has an advantage over the House version by creating a position at the top of the agency with new clout and well-defined duties.

Kennedy's bill would invest this director with authority similar to that of the FBI's director. As former congressman and longtime chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee Romano Mazzoli noted at a hearing, this would put the immigration head in a strong position to develop, implement and finance immigration policy. It would also ensure close coordination with the State Department, the FBI, the CIA and other agencies--power INS commissioners have never had.

Another strong feature of the Senate bill is that it would divide the agency into an enforcement bureau and a services bureau, each headed by a deputy director, with a clear chain of command leading to the director.

This would do away with contradictions that have plagued the INS, which is charged with both arresting and welcoming immigrants.

Kennedy's bill also would establish an Office of Children's Services within the new agency to ensure that federal authorities recognize the special needs and circumstances of unaccompanied immigrant children.

Clear national consensus on immigration policy remains a distant goal. In the meantime, Kennedy's new immigration agency, with its proposed clarity of purpose--keep bad guys out, make life easier for the good guys who come legally--would be a big improvement on the current chaos.

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