Alien Notion

Before reforming immigration, a new report argues, replace the INS.


As Congress considers new immigration laws–possibly including big cuts in legal immigration and the imposition of national identity cards–a January policy study by Washington's Center for Equal Opportunity urges caution for an unexpected reason. The report, "Abolish the INS: How Federal Bureaucracy Dooms Immigration Reform," says the agency can't perform its responsibilities now. Giving it more authority would be pointless.

Since 1940 the INS has been a part of the Department of Justice. Its 21,000 employees work in Washington, 33 district offices, and four service centers; they constitute nearly 20 percent of all DOJ personnel. The agency's budget has more than doubled this decade, from about $1 billion in fiscal year 1990 to $2.6 billion this fiscal year. Two additional cabinet agencies–the Department of State and the Department of Labor–handle essential immigrant services. Potential immigrants must get approval from both the INS and the State Department before relocating here; the Labor Department must verify that companies wanting to hire immigrants aren't refusing to give qualified Americans the same jobs.

CEO legal adviser Daniel W. Sutherland, who authored the report, says the INS is "inherently incapable of performing the duties it already has, let alone taking on new duties." Inconsistently applied enforcement policies, turf wars between district offices, and obsolete information systems plague the agency.

For instance, an Alabama employer that incorrectly filed paperwork on new employees was fined thousands of dollars while an Ohio company that made the same mistakes got off with no more than a warning, reported a RAND Corporation/Urban Institute study. The agency also forfeits nearly $30 million a year by not demanding the payment of fees that are collected by airlines from international travelers and by bail bondsmen in deportation cases.

In part, Sutherland says the agency's problems stem from its conflicting missions: enforcing the laws against illegal immigration while assisting legal immigrants who want to become citizens and people here on temporary visas. The INS is in the uncomfortable business of simultaneously helping some people get into the country and tossing others out.

Yet the immigration bills pending on Capitol Hill would give the INS even more responsibilities. "Without comprehensive structural reform of the federal immigration bureaucracy," says the report, "billions of dollars in new spending on immigration will be wasted and new responsibilities will go unfulfilled."

Sutherland suggests closing the INS and reassigning its functions. A new Federal Immigration Agency would perform all naturalization services, including those done by the State and Labor Departments. All enforcement duties, including those of the Border Patrol, would shift to the Customs Service, making the same agency responsible for regulating both incoming people and incoming products. He also recommends having the FIA hire private companies for such jobs as fee collection and document preparation.