The INS Transition
Many questions have surfaced since the announcement that the INS' functions will be transferred into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on March 1, 2003. Even though there is an air of uncertainty, an INS spokesperson asserts that the transition should be relatively smooth with no immediate changes to the non-immigrant, immigrant and citizenship application process. He stressed that all visa regulations and INS officials will remain intact. The INS spokesperson also stressed that immigration services and benefits will greatly improve within the DHS since it will be separate from the enforcement function. The services function of the INS will be transferred to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), and will be responsible for administering visa and immigration services and benefits.
While the services and processes will stay the same, the name of the agency will immediately change. On March 1st, the INS Website will also represent the change to the new department. The INS Website will become the "The BCIS Online" and will continue to be located at http://www.immigration.gov. A new Website address, www.bcis.gov, should be up and running in the near future. In addition, the national customer service center's number will remain intact while the district offices will immediately change names to become "BCIS offices". Checks will be accepted if they are addressed to the INS or the BCIS. Additionally, the INS has published a brochure that provides answers to frequently asked questions. To view the brochure, please click on the following link: Changing INS brochure
Who is in charge?
Eduardo Aguirre, currently the vice chairman, first vice president and chief operating officer of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, has recently been nominated as the Acting Director of the BCIS. Aguirre is a nationally recognized business and civic leader who has been named "one of the 100 most influential Hispanics in the nation" for three consecutive years. In his new post, Aguirre will report directly to the Deputy Secretary, the second in command of the entire DHS. Among Aguirre's responsibilities, authorization has been given to institute a pilot program focused on eliminating the application backlog.
A possible voice on improving the immigration services arena is the newly created Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman. This individual, also reporting directly to the Deputy Secretary, will be responsible for assisting individuals and employers that are experiencing problems with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, identifying problem areas at the Bureau and proposing administrative changes. Another influential position that could improve immigration services is the Special Assistant; to which Alfonso Martinez Fonts, Jr. was recently appointed to. He will report directly to the Secretary and will be the liaison between the private sector and the DHS. He will identify problem areas and policy issues for the DHS that affect the private sector, including immigration.
On January 29th, Asa Hutchinson, previously the Administrator of the DEA, was formally sworn in as the Under Secretary for Border and Transportation Security. He will be responsible for everything from borders to aviation security. Hutchinson will head two bureaus:
* Robert C. Bonner has been nominated as the Commissioner of the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection
* Michael Garcia, the current Acting Commissioner of the INS, has been nominated as the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security to head this bureau.
The new DHS organizational chart below highlights the departments that will influence U.S. immigration.
Earlier this week, President Bush submitted his proposal for the fiscal year 2004 budget. Of the $36.2 billion budget for the DHS, $500 million will be designated to improve immigration services, including reducing the backlog and creating an online filing system.
Tom Ridge expressed, that while this agency was created to focus on security, both he and the Bush Administration recognize the importance of immigrants to the U.S. Therefore, a top priority is to improve the immigration services functions. Ridge stated that "[t]hrough a newly created Office of Citizenship and Immigration, we will focus on doing things right for our country's own protection, but also to ensure that America remains a welcoming nation for people who want a better way of life, for people who want to make a contribution here...[b]ut at the same time, we must also reduce the present INS backlog, decrease processing time and protect the rights and civil liberties of both naturalized and prospective citizens."
The Department of Homeland Security
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