Improvements Are Coming
The historic difficulties of the Immigration and Naturalization Service can be traced to a myriad of shortcomings, from limited resources to fundamental weaknesses of organization. The men and women of the INS are dedicated and hardworking, but President Bush and Congress have recognized the need for a new approach. As a result, on March 1, the INS as it is organized today will no longer exist, and its functions will move into the Department of Homeland Security. This is the first step toward improving both citizenship services and the enforcement of our nation's immigration laws.
It is fair to ask whether this reorganization of INS enforcement and services will be enough to solve the problems of the past. I believe it will, and I believe people will see improvements right from the start.
One of the problems to fix is that many key employees lacked access to the information they needed to do their jobs effectively. That's about to change.
When INS functions are housed in the Department of Homeland Security alongside the other border-enforcement agencies, barriers to information-sharing will immediately come down. We will take steps to arm immigration and customs inspectors with the timely information they need to carry out their No. 1 priority: to find terrorists or the implements of terror before they can do harm to Americans.
Another problem to address is the decision-making process at our ports of entry. Right now there are three port directors looking through trifocal lenses aimed at protecting our borders. These three port directors report up three different chains of command to three different Cabinet departments. We will take immediate steps to unify the chain of command, so key immigration and customs officers take their direction from only one manager. This immediately will improve communications and increase accountability.
The first steps will be small, but over time we intend to make additional reforms and to significantly increase the automated tools available to officers who enforce our immigration laws. We will be working to ensure that immigrants are here in compliance with our laws. Those who are, we welcome with open arms. Those who are not, we will deal with fairly, but firmly.
In short, I believe the reforms we intend to implement at the Department of Homeland Security beginning March 1 will result in better enforcement of our immigration laws and more timely and predictable services for people who want to legally come to the United States to work, study or visit.
Asa Hutchinson is Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security.
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