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INS Under Water Again: Change Of Address Cards Flood The Agency
by Jose Latour

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Attorney General John Ashcroft decided that he would enforce the long-standing provision that required non-U.S. citizens to notify the federal government whenever they have moved. Several months after making that broad proclamation, the INS is sitting under mountains of change-of-address cards, to the tune of some 700,000 with more pouring in by the thousands daily. The cards are under storage in Washington D.C. with absolutely no foreseeable solution in sight.

Here's what happened: when the provisions requiring aliens to keep INS posted of their permanent address were drafted, it was a different America. First of all, people didn't move nearly as often as they do today. Second, the reasons for the regulation were pragmatic: the regulation permitted the INS to notify aliens of any changes in federal law, and it also was drafted during a time when the numbers were more manageable. In today's extremely transient U.S. society, and where the immigration numbers are considerably higher, an overworked, under-staffed, and under-funded INS cannot possibly keep track of the move of every non-U.S. citizen in the nation.

Ashcroft's plan made sense, particularly in light of September 11 and the general national notion that we needed to keep better tabs on who exactly was in this nation. The purpose was well- intended: to help U.S. federal agents track potential terrorists' threats. The problem was this: the regulatory requirement for notifying the INS is of critical concern to those with the most to lose - U.S. permanent residents. When Mr. Ashcroft announced his intended enforcement of the provision, the media went crazy, broadcasting the planned enforcement through every ethnic radio program and local newspaper in the country. Urban legends of forced deportation as a result of failed address change reports exploded from every direction, and soon, immigration attorney phones throughout the nation were ringing off the hook with panic calls from permanent residents. The problem is this: permanent residents are not the ones blowing up buildings.

So the change of address forms were downloaded by the hundreds of thousands by the more savvy permanent residents, and tens of thousands of little old men and ladies stood in line at INS district offices throughout the nation, spending hundreds of hours in line to wait for a form that would be dutifully mailed in to sit in a warehouse with no action taken a month later. According to a recent USA Today article, INS spokesman Russ Bergeron says that the agency has received up to 30,000 change-of-address notices a day. Before Mr. Ashcroft had his brilliant idea, the INS received about 2,800 notices per month, based on the requirement imposed by the 1952 law.

In the same article, Republican Congressman from Wisconsin, James Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee took a swipe at Ashcroft and the INS, saying that this was an example of the "INS' incompetence at enforcing U.S. immigration law" and that Ashcroft should have made sure that the INS had enough staff to handle the influx of the change-of-address forms.

I agree with Sensenbrenner on the Ashcroft part, but I find it hard to blame INS. I can only imagine the look on their faces when they heard about Ashcroft's proclamation on national television, as they fully realized the event he had triggered. The problem with the change-of-address requirement is that even if these 30,000 forms per day could be input by an army of dedicated new workers tasked only with that responsibility, so what?

What kind of logical correlation is there between this and the "Mohammed Attas" of the world? Would Mr. Atta have filled out a change-of-address form indicating that he was discontinuing his flight school training or moving from one apartment to another because of his plans to fly a U.S. airliner into the World Trade Center?

Once again, the correlation between reflexive reactions to our national fears and sheer logic are miles apart, all at the hands of an administration with far more power than intelligence.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site,, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.