The End of the Immigration and Naturalization Service

Posted on: May 21st, 2013
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At midnight on February 28, 2003, after nearly 70 years of service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service will cease to exist. The agency, which has come to represent endless lines, lost paperwork, and bureaucracy, will be divided into three bureaus, absorbed into the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS was created in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and is actually a collection of a number of previously existing agencies connected to the nation’s security. Moving the INS and its 36,000 employees will mark the biggest change to immigration services since June 10, 1933, when the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization were combined to create the INS.

This is not the first time that immigration services have been moved into another department; seven years after the INS was formed, in 1940, the agency was reassigned to the Department of Justice, as an attempt to improve security during a time of war. Since that time, the INS has balanced seemingly contradictory roles of service and enforcement, and many critics would say they failed in both. Under the new organization, the agency’s service branch will be separated from its law enforcement functions.

Federal officials promise that the new bureaus will be more efficient and user-friendly, while at the same time improving national security. The Department’s main task will be protecting America’s borders against terrorism.

In a news conference Thursday, President Bush and Secretary Tom Ridge spoke before employees of the new department.

To underscore the mammoth task to be performed by the DHS, Ridge said, “Today, more than one million people will cross our borders – some by car, some by sea, some by plane. Today, 1.6 million Americans will board planes traveling within our borders. Today, 95,000 miles of coastland and waterways will meet our agencies’ watchful eyes. Today, 2.4 million pieces of luggage will pass through the country’s 429 commercial airports. And today, thousands and thousands of visa and green card applications will reach the desks of the I.N.S. offices. And that is just some of the work the agency will do every single day.”

These duties will be handled by three separate bureaus within the Department of Homeland Security:

  • 1. The Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP) will merge functions now run by separate agencies. It will patrol the nation’s borders, monitor migration, and control the traffic of imports and exports. The BCBP will be led by U.S. Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner, a U.S. attorney and federal judge from Los Angeles.
  • 2. The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) will handle deportation and the investigation of immigration law violations. Over the BICE will be acting INS Commissioner Michael Garcia.

These two bureaus will operate under the Border and Transportation Security Directorate (BTS), to be headed by Asa Hutchinson, a former congressman from Arkansas and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

  • 3. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) will process applications for citizenship, permanent residency and asylum, and it will handle other administrative functions. Over the BCIS will be Eduardo Aguirre, a Houston resident and former vice chair of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

The DHS has also absorbed 22 other agencies, including the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

In a February 26 press release, Acting INS Commissioner Michael Garcia said, “We are committed to making this transition as seamless and smooth as possible for those we serve.”

To reach that goal, the BCIS is mailing out materials to immigration offices across the country with key information about the transition:

  1. INS forms and documents are still valid and will continue to be accepted by BCIS and other agencies
  2. Local offices will remain in existing INS locations, including Application Support Centers and Service Centers
  3. Forms should continue to be mailed to the address indicated in forms and notices
  4. The National Customer Service Call Center will continue to be available at 1-800-375-5283
  5. Customers will still be able to download forms and check the status of their case online. The new web address for BCIS will be www.immigration.gov

 

Officials and immigration experts say there will be major changes, including electronic filing of applications, use of biometrics in identification credentials, more rigorous background checks, implementation of high-tech systems to reduce backlogs at checkpoints and border crossings, consolidation of personnel and procedures, and improved tracking of foreign students using SEVIS, an electronic database system currently being implemented.

“To fully realize success in the Department of Homeland Security, we need to exploit technologies that we have only dabbled in up to this point,” said Mike Becraft, the INS’ acting deputy commissioner.

The well-regarded INS web site will remain in existence. The new web address is www.immigration.gov.