Immigration and Naturalization Service Reorganization
Congressional Testimony of Dan Stein, Executive Director, Federation for American Immigration Reform
Submitted For THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
This statement outlines FAIR’s views on H.R.3231, a bill to replace the Immigration and Naturalization Service with the Agency for Immigration Affairs
Summary: FAIR supports the intent of the legislation to elevate the level of authority over, and responsibility for, immigration law enforcement and service operations, and to clearly separate those two functions in order to enhance both enforcement and service delivery. It also suggests consideration of how this reorganization may relate to the parallel study of establishing a consolidated border management department.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to present the views of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) on your legislation, H.R. 3231, to replace the Immigration and Naturalization Service with the Agency for Immigration Affairs. My name is Dan Stein, and I am FAIR’s executive director.
FAIR is a national, non-profit organization of concerned citizens nationwide promoting better immigration controls and an immigration time-out to insure that today’s policies serve the current and future best interests of the American people. Since its founding more than twenty years ago, FAIR has insisted on the need to improve America’s immigration system in the national interest. FAIR does not receive any federal grants, contracts or subcontracts.
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 brought home to Americans the fact that we must have better control over our borders and the immigration process that determines who will be admitted to our country and under what conditions. That message has been underscored by the sorry spectacle of student visa notifications for two of the terrorist pilots surfacing six months after that national calamity. It was further underscored when Attorney General Ashcroft acknowledged that the FBI and INS in cooperation with local law enforcement authorities had been unable to locate more than 1,000 foreign students from Arab and Moslem countries (about one in five of those sought) for interviews related to the terrorist attack.
The sad fact is that we don’t know how many foreigners, from what countries, or for what purposes are in our country at any given time. It took the 2000 Census and an estimate by the Census Bureau to reveal that INS estimates of the magnitude of the illegal resident alien population were woefully understated. It is patently obvious to the American people that the immigration reforms of 1996 did not go far enough, just as it became painfully clear last September that our lax enforcement of our immigration laws can no longer be tolerated while this country is under attack from international terrorists.
The American people are trusting in their elected leaders to display the wisdom and initiative to adopt all appropriate measures that will offer them greater protection from a repetition of the September 11 attacks. FAIR has outlined a broad array of measures that would advance that objective. We believe that increasing the operational effectiveness of immigration law enforcement is vital to that objective.
Fair’s Analysis Of H.R.3231
The legislation before this committee, H.R.3231, wisely recognizes two fundamental problems with the current administration of our immigration law. First is the fact that this function is too important to continue to leave it relegated to an afterthought of the structure of the Department of Justice. Authority over and responsibility for the actions and lapses in immigration law enforcement and its service operations must be more clearly lodged under the Attorney General. Just as the nation’s safety and well-being are poorly served by any shortcoming in our determination to enforce immigration laws, the hopes and aspirations of those seeking to join our society through legal means are poorly served by unacceptable processing delays. This bill addresses these issues by establishing an Associate Attorney General to assume full responsibility. Second, is the fact that both the law enforcement functions and the immigration services operations are both sufficiently important in their own right that they each must have their own clear-cut line of authority and resources. This bill does that by separating the two functions under separate managers and with separate budgets.
There is a third corollary to those two fundamental principles that should be kept in mind, i.e., that the service operations provided to immigrants and nonimmigrants and to sponsors of immigrants and nonimmigrants is inextricably linked to enforcement operations. The process of preventing the entry of would-be terrorists, other undesirable aliens or intruders into our country must be able to recognize those who should be speedily admitted or readmitted into the country. This would suffer a major setback if there were an effort to cleave those two functions entirely apart. In other words, the data on who has been admitted for legal residence or as a visitor must be as readily available to the port of entry inspector or Border Patrol officer or immigration investigator as data on who must not be admitted or must be removed from out country. This bill recognizes and maintains those lines of communication between the two functions.
Consolidated Border Management
Mr. Chairman, as you are well aware, the current renewed public discussion of the creation of a consolidated border management agency or department is a resurfacing of a proposal that dates back to the 1970s. The fact that it has persisted for so long is indication enough that serious observers of the current confusing and bifurcated border management system continue to come back to this proposal as a needed reform. At the same time, the fact that the proposal has fared no better is a tribute to the ability of strong leaders with cabinet portfolios to fend off raids on their turf. However, since September 11 we are facing a new day, one in which border management is highlighted as an urgent need. President Bush explicitly recognized the need for improving coordination among the various departments and agencies that share border management responsibilities by the appointment of Gov. Ridge to his staff. Gov. Ridge, for his part, quickly discovered that his inability to order cooperation among bureaucrats who were not under his command was a serious drawback.
We are now seeing movement, with the apparent support of the President, toward adoption of the first steps towards consolidating border management functions by bringing together the primary border control agencies: the INS, with its Border Patrol and inspectors, and the Customs Service, which shares the inspection function at the nation’s ports of entry. We at FAIR see this tentative first step toward consolidation as a step in the right direction, although we believe it does not go far enough. We think that homeland security has been demonstrated by the tragic attack on our country to be so vital to the national interest that it merits cabinet rank status and needs to encompass all of the border management functions.
Mr. Chairman, the cleavage between service and enforcement operations of today’s INS, as addressed in this legislation, will continue to be needed regardless of whether it is done by itself or as part of a larger reorganization of the Executive Branch of government. In calling your attention to the proposal for a larger restructuring of government responsibilities, we do not intend to detract from the proposal in this bill. We believe that there is no inconsistency between this bill and consolidated border management. We would encourage you, Mr. Chairman, and members of this committee to consider the possibility of amending this bill to include a larger reorganization.
While it is true that the Administration has not taken the lead in proposing a cabinet level position to manage border security operations, it clearly is an issue that is well understood by the public and one on which thoughtful initiative would be well received.
We in no way wish to slow down this proposal to replace the Immigration and Naturalization Service with the Agency for Immigration Affairs by suggesting that it await reform of the Executive Branch to enhance national security. Swift action is vitally important. However, we believe that this is not a time for half measures. The issues at stake — the lives and well-being or our people — are too important to be satisfied with partial measures.
Whatever route that this committee chooses to take, Mr. Chairman, we would be negligent if we did not share with you our concern that during the process of institutional change contemplated either by the creation of an Agency for Immigration Affairs or by a new cabinet level Department of Homeland Affairs the operational capabilities of the new entity will be severely strained. You will appreciate that the transition to a new, more responsive and more responsible operation will take time. During the transition, if nothing else changes, today’s inadequate performance will be further degraded. Yet, this is not a time when we can afford to let down our guard. Accordingly, we hope that you and the members of the committee will reserve a place in your efforts to consider legislation that will temporarily reduce the strains on the institutional capabilities of the newly restructured organization. Not only should the immigration bureaucracy be spared any new burdens, and administration of INA Section 245(i) would be such a burden, but also measures to reduce the burden during the transitional period, such as a moratorium on all but core priority immigration such as immediate relatives and refugees, should be enacted.
Mr. Chairman, in addition to these suggestions, that we think would enhance the achievement of the objectives of this bill in much wider measure, we have offered to your staff some additional perfecting suggestions that we hope you will consider as you move forward on this legislation.
Thank you for the opportunity to share with you the views of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. On behalf of our members we congratulate you for addressing the important need to improve both the delivery of the services that assure a smooth operation of our system of immigration and the incorporation of newcomers into our society as well as the means to better protect our people against dangerous and undesirable intruders.