ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

Immigration Daily: the news source for legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers

Home Page

Advanced search


Immigration Daily

Archives

Processing times

Immigration forms

Discussion board

Resources

Blogs

Twitter feed

Immigrant Nation

Attorney2Attorney

CLE Workshops

Immigration books

Advertise on ILW

VIP Network

EB-5

Chinese Immig. Daily

About ILW.COM

Connect to us

Make us Homepage

Questions/Comments


SUBSCRIBE

Immigration Daily

 

Chinese Immig. Daily



The leading
immigration law
publisher - over
50000 pages of free
information!

Copyright
©1995-
ILW.COM,
American
Immigration LLC.

Immigration Daily: the news source for
legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers
Enter your email address here:



< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

Testimony


by


Lawrence Gonzalez, Washington Director

National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund


before


the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on

Immigration & Claims

on reforming the Immigration and Naturalization Service








Washington, D.C.

October 17, 2001






            Chairman Gekas, Ranking Member Jackson-Lee and distinguished members of the Committee: On behalf of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund we are grateful for the opportunity to testify and share with you our perspectives on reforming the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

 

            The NALEO Educational Fund is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that empowers Latinos to participate fully in the American political process, from citizenship to public service. We carry out this mission by developing and implementing programs that promote the integration of Latino immigrants into American society, developing future leaders among Latino youth, providing training and technical assistance to the nation’s Latino elected officials, and conducting research on issues that are important to the Latino population. The NALEO Educational Fund’s constituency includes the more than 5,400 Latino elected and appointed officials nationwide.

 

            During the last decade, the NALEO Educational Fund has been at the forefront of promoting U.S. citizenship among Latino legal permanent residents and providing quality, accessible naturalization services throughout the nation. As part of its efforts, NALEO has conducted community workshops in Southern California, Chicago, New York, Houston, and other communities, which together have assisted over 85,000 immigrants in becoming U.S. citizens. Our toll-free U.S. citizenship hotline has received over a half a million calls since the mid-1980's, and has provided basic information on U.S. citizenship to people from more than 85 countries of origin. Through our naturalization assistance activities, we have gained an understanding of the problems encountered by immigrants when they make the decision to become U.S. citizens. Additionally, we have been active participants in advisory and working groups on INS management issues, including the Coopers and Lybrand Naturalization Re-engineering Management Advisory Team, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Restructuring Advisory Board, and the Naturalization Advisory Committee of the Los Angeles INS district.

 

            In my testimony today, I would like to offer you the NALEO Educational Fund’s recommendations for restructuring the Immigration and Naturalization Service. As you will hear, we are particularly concerned with the fundamental changes that are needed in the system for financing immigration services.

 

            Since the INS was established as the Bureau of Immigration in 1891, policymakers, researchers and immigrant advocates have frequently discussed the appropriate structure for the agency, and have advanced reform proposals. Over the last two sessions of Congress, INS reform has again surfaced as a focus of public policy debate. President Bush, in recognition of the importance of the issue to immigrants throughout our nation, early on voiced his beliefs about the need for INS reform and the need to shorten processing times on citizenship and other immigration applications.

 

            In order to assess the various proposals put forth by policymakers, and utilizing our experiences with assisting immigrants and advocating for improvements in the naturalization process, the non-partisan Board of Directors of the NALEO Educational Fund articulated four basic principles that we believe should guide any restructuring of the INS. Mr. Chairman, we have attached the principles as part of our recorded testimony. In brief, our four principles are:

 

            First, there must be a structure that provides for strong centralized leadership of the nation’s immigration functions to further coherent and coordinated immigration policy-making and implementation. In encountering various bureaucratic complications with the naturalization process, we have often found it difficult to determine who is specifically responsible for formulating policy, overseeing its implementation, and remedying problems that arise. A previous INS restructuring proposal provided for separating the adjudication and enforcement functions of the agency into two newly-created bureaus, without centralized leadership for the bureaus. We believe that any structure which separates the agency’s functions without providing for such leadership furthers a lack of accountability, and creates the risk that agency personnel will give out conflicting messages on policy matters.

 

            Second, immigration adjudication and enforcement functions must be separated, with both having equal priority. This separation will help ensure that personnel clearly understand their mission with the organization, and that they possess the special expertise and qualifications necessary to administer their respective responsibilities effectively. It also will enhance accountability within both chains of command. Within the structure of both functions, there also should be efficient and accessible mechanisms to address customer complaints and resolve customer problems. At the local level these mechanisms are particularly deficient in our naturalization system and make it extremely difficult for applicants to surmount the barriers in the process.

 

            While the enforcement and service functions should be separated, the structure of the service functions and their location in the federal government should ensure that they have equal priority on our immigration policy agenda. If service functions rank lower than enforcement, they will not have the bureaucratic, political and financial resources required to make the substantial improvements in customer service that immigrant communities and other stakeholders need.

 

            Additionally, service and enforcement functions should share support services (such as some aspects of personnel training, information systems and record-keeping). The sharing of information systems and records is particularly important for the cost-effective coordination of activities between the two functions. If the service functions incur increased costs for support services as a result of inadequate coordination, those costs may result in rising fees for immigrant applications.

 

            Third, INS leadership must be empowered to elevate immigration policy on the federal agenda. The agency’s head should be able to integrate the development and administration of immigration policy by the agency’s separate functions. This leader’s position in the federal government should be sufficiently powerful (whether by virtue of reporting relationships or status within the federal bureaucracy) to advance the agency’s agenda within the Executive Branch.

 

      Fourth, restructuring must be accompanied by other fundamental policy and organizational changes, including reform of our system of financing adjudications. The service functions must receive adequate resources for an equitable and accessible system of immigration adjudications. The current system of funding, which generally requires that adjudications be supported by user fees, is largely responsible for the INS’ inability to effectively respond to the surge of naturalization and other immigration applications it has received since last decade. While the NALEO Educational Fund is generally supportive of restructuring proposals that separate the service and enforcement functions of the INS, we also emphatically believe that simply separating these functions will not eliminate one of the most serious problems affecting INS service delivery - the lack of adequate funding.

 

            As you may recall, in the late 1980's, Congress mandated that, generally, immigration and naturalization adjudications must be self-supporting from fees paid by applicants. Under this mandate, the cost of all adjudications are funded from fees paid into the INS’ Examinations Fee Account, and the INS is permitted to charge a fee for each service sufficient to cover its cost of providing that service. However, this system has not provided the agency the resources it needs to address dramatic increases in the demand for its services or to make needed investments in infrastructure improvements or broad programmatic changes. It has not provided the agency the flexibility it needs to shift resources when new needs arise. And it does not provide adequate accountability to ensure that the agency spends its resources efficiently and effectively.

 

            We believe that fundamental changes must be made to repair this broken system. However, many previously introduced INS restructuring proposals failed to adequately provide for immigration service financing reform. Based on those proposals, we have several concerns and recommendations.

 

            1) We are concerned that Examinations Fee Account monies will be used for the costs incurred in creating a separate immigration Services Bureau or chain of command during the actual restructuring of the agency’s functions. We believe this would result in a diminution of services and perhaps even a fee increase during the transition period. Consequently, we recommend the creation of a Transition Account, funded by appropriated monies from the federal treasury, to manage the transition from the INS during its restructuring.

 

            2) We are concerned that a failure to prevent funds deposited into the Examinations Fee account from being used for other, non service-related purposes will result in the Service side becoming starved for needed resources and add to the massive backlogs that currently exist in the processing of visa applications, applications for adjustments of status and naturalization. We recommend that there should be explicit prohibitions against using Examinations Fee Account revenues for any purposes other than the cost of providing services to immigrants. Similarly, we propose that the statute establishing the Examinations Fee Account be amended to require that only the day-to-day routine costs of adjudications be funded from those fees.

 

            In this connection, we believe that Congress must, on an on-going basis, appropriate sufficient funding for adjudications backlog reduction and infrastructure improvements, so that these costs are not borne by immigrant applicants. Congress must also place any funds earmarked for these purposes into the Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvements Account it established last session. This will require the INS to provide detailed reports on how it intends to use the funding, and its progress in meeting its customer service goals. These accountability measures will help guarantee that the INS spends its resources efficiently and effectively.

 

             3) We are concerned that the current system of funding the adjudication of asylee and refugee applications from the Examinations Fee Account substantially contributes to the high application fees that other immigrants must pay. Applicants’ fees for such services as naturalization and legal permanent residency essentially subsidize the adjudication of refugee and asylee applications. When the INS raised the naturalization application fee in 1999 to $225, it estimated that $35 of the fee was attributable to this subsidy. While we strongly believe that for humanitarian reasons, refugees and asylees should not have to pay application fees, it is also inequitable for these costs to be borne by other immigrant applicants. We recommend that the statute providing for the funding of refugee and asylee adjudications from the Examinations Fee Account be changed to authorize the appropriation of funds of those adjudications, and that the federal government appropriate adequate funding for refugee and asylee services. Examination Fee Account monies should only be used if those appropriations are not sufficient.

 

            4) We are concerned about the INS’ inability to reprogram Examinations Fee Account and appropriated money in a timely manner. Currently, the INS must seek authorization from the House or Senate Appropriations Committees to reprogram these funds. Although technically the INS is only required to “notify” Congress of the requests, as a practical matter, the INS and Congress treat this requirement as one mandating Congressional approval. Unfortunately, Congress has delayed the approval of some of these requests for several months, which has impaired the ability of the INS to meet the changing needs of its service operations. For example, in November 1997, as part of its backlog reduction efforts, the INS requested a reprogramming of $8.5 million to centralize all INS records in a single location. The House decided to wait and incorporate the request into the FY 1999 budget, and the funds did not become available until October 1998, nearly a year later.

 

            Consequently, we suggest that the INS be authorized to implement any reprogramming 15 days after proper Congressional notification, if it has not received formal Congressional disapproval. This will provide the agency the flexibility to respond to funding needs that are urgent or result from unforeseen changes in the demand for immigrant services.

 

            We are gravely concerned about the recent proposed increases in the application fees for naturalization and other immigration services - the cost of U.S. citizenship will jump from $250 to $310, and this increase comes only a few years after the 1999 increase from $95 to $225. These fee hikes, together with the inadequate delivery of INS services, underscore the inequities and inefficiencies of our fee-based system of funding of INS adjudications. The responsibility of paying for U.S. citizenship should be a partnership shared by immigrants who have played by the rules, and our federal government, which should provide appropriated monies for application processing. We believe that this proposed fee increase places an unfair burden on our nation’s newcomers at a time when we should be welcoming their participation in our society and democracy. The proposed fee increase may put naturalization beyond the reach of thousands of immigrants who are eager to become actively involved in our nation’s political and civic life.

 

            Ultimately, we also know that providing the INS with the fiscal resources it needs for its service operations is only one step toward making the fundamental changes that are required in our nation’s immigrations functions. More funding will not solve the agency’s problems if those monies are not spent prudently and effectively. An infusion of resources will not guarantee competence and accountability in the implementation of our immigration policies. As President Bush said recently in a speech at Ellis Island “Immigration is not a problem to be solved. It is a sign of a confident and successful nation. And people who seek to make America their home should be met in that spirit by representatives of our government. But, as many immigrants can testify, that standard has not always been observed. For those seeking entry, the process is often a prolonged ordeal full of complexities and burdens.” The President concluded by saying he was committed to changing this with INS reforms that treat every immigrant with respect and fairness.

 

            Which leads us to the recognition of the need for a change in the INS organizational culture to ensure professionalism and improved customer service. Virtually everyone recognizes that many INS personnel are viewed as incompetent and discourteous. This perception is shared by persons who must deal with both the enforcement and service sides of the agency, with complaints ranging from immigrant applicants who encounter rude examiners or office personnel, to native-born business executives who face bureaucratic obstacles trying to transact trade across the border. In this we are encouraged by the remarks and leadership of new INS Commissioner James Ziglar, who has moved his new administrative team into action toward an internal restructuring aimed at creating an environment more conducive to positive change.

            In the same vein, there must be a fundamental change in the “bureaucratic culture” of the immigration agency to one which emphasizes professionalism, accountability, and customer service. This culture must be inculcated throughout the agency by its leadership, and incorporated into the agency’s training of its personnel and the performance objectives it establishes for them. The agency’s personnel must also reflect the diversity of our nation’s immigrant community. Moreover, the INS must recognize that organizations which work closely with immigrant communities have a deep understanding of the impact of immigration policies on the lives of the agency’s customers, and should become key partners with the agency in the development and implementation of policies and procedures, on both the national and local level. 

            Mr. Chairman, in conclusion, we believe that higher naturalization rates are in the best interests of our nation. Immigrants who embrace U.S. citizenship are motivated by a desire to demonstrate their commitment to this country. When they gain the right to vote and participate in the political process, our democracy becomes stronger and more representative. Increased naturalization also makes a wider group of skilled and talented workers available in our workforce for positions that are barred to non-citizens. For thousands of law-abiding, tax-paying newcomers, U.S. citizenship is the often overlooked obstacle to social, political and economic advancement.

 

            Immigrants who wish to fully participate in America should not be stranded in a bureaucratic maze. However, unless we restructure our nation’s immigration functions, reform our mechanisms for financing immigration adjudications, and make fundamental changes in the institutional culture of our immigration agency, we will not be able to create an equitable, accessible, and expeditious system for providing services to our nation’s newcomers. Assisting newcomers with U.S. citizenship is deeply embedded in American political tradition; this country promoted U.S. citizenship in the 19th century and early decades of this century. Efforts to promote naturalization continue in the new millennium and thousands of immigrants will be seeking U.S. citizenship this decade. Without fundamental changes in our immigration bureaucracy, newcomers will be seeing the U.S. government at its worst, when they should be seeing it at its best. We are pleased that through this hearing, you are seeking public input in creating the best public policy toward INS reform. Like you, we believe that now is the best time to make changes in the way naturalization policy is being implemented. We are confident that with your continued leadership on this issue, the future of the naturalization process in this great nation will remain strong. These reforms can serve as an integral part of the renewal of our historic commitment to maintaining the vitality of our democracy.

 

            Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to speak before this committee today.


Attachment PRINCIPLES GUIDING RESTRUCTURING OF THE

NATION’S IMMIGRATION FUNCTIONS

Adopted by the Boards of Directors of the NALEO Educational Fund and the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials

 

             A. The structure of immigration functions must further coherent and coordinated immigration policy development and implementation: All of our nation’s immigration functions are charged with implementing the same body of law. A unified agency could best ensure the development of coherent immigration policy and the effective coordination of enforcement and service operations. Any structure which separates the agency’s functions without providing for strong, centralized leadership furthers a lack of accountability and creates the risk that agency personnel will give out conflicting messages on policy matters.

  

             B. Separate enforcement and service functions, and ensure that both have equal priority: Immigration service and enforcement functions should be implemented through separate chains of command and career tracks. The separation should extend from the field level up to immediately below the top leadership level, and the top leadership should be responsible for integrating immigration policy making and implementation. The separation of functions will help ensure that personnel clearly understand their mission with the organization, and that they possess the special expertise and qualifications necessary to administer their respective responsibilities effectively. It also will enhance accountability within both chains of command. Within the structure of both functions, there also should be efficient and accessible mechanisms to address customer complaints and resolve customer problems, particularly at the local level.

 

             While the enforcement and service functions should be separated, the structure of the service functions and their location in the federal government should ensure that they have equal priority on our immigration policy agenda. If service functions rank lower than enforcement, they will not have the bureaucratic, political and financial resources required to make the substantial improvements in customer service that immigrant communities and other stakeholders need. Therefore, we do not support any structure that would diminish the priority of the service functions in the immigration agency, or would place them lower than enforcement.

 

             Additionally, service and enforcement functions should share support services (such as some aspects of personnel training, information systems and record-keeping). The sharing of information systems and records is particularly important for the cost-effective coordination of activities between the two functions. If the service functions incur increased costs for support services as a result of inadequate coordination, those costs may result in rising fees for immigrant applications.


Principles Guiding Restructuring of the Nation’s Immigration Functions - page 2

 

 

             C. The immigration agency’s leadership must be empowered to elevate immigration policy on the federal agenda: The agency’s head should be able to integrate the development and administration of immigration policy by the agency’s separate functions. This leader’s position in the federal government should be sufficiently powerful (whether by virtue of reporting relationships or status within the federal bureaucracy) to advance the agency’s agenda within the Executive Branch.

 

             D. Restructuring is only one step toward fundamental reform of our nation’s immigration system: While restructuring in accordance with the principles set forth above would address some of the problems of our immigration system, it must be accompanied by other fundamental policy and organizational changes. These include:

 

                        The service functions must receive adequate resources for an equitable, accessible and effective system of immigration adjudications. The funding for those adjudications should be modified to eliminate the reliance on fee revenue and ensure that appropriated funds are used for expenses which are not related to the routine aspects of adjudications, such as one-time extraordinary expenses, infrastructure improvements, and comprehensive program changes. Similarly, the Examinations Fee Account should no longer solely bear the cost of refugee and asylee adjudications, and appropriated monies should provide some portion of the support for these operations.

 

Moreover, the system of requiring fee revenue to fully support the cost of adjudicating naturalization applications was established so that immigrants who receive a government “benefit” would bear the costs of application processing. However, this nation should recognize that greater naturalization not only benefits new U.S. citizens, but also enriches our democracy by making it more representative and vital. Consequently, encouraging naturalization is in the best interests of this nation, and high application fees should not place U.S. citizenship beyond the reach of our newcomers. Thus, there should be a partnership between immigrants and our government to pay for U.S. citizenship, and adequate funding for naturalization adjudications should be provided through a combination of appropriated monies and fee revenue.

 

                        There must be a fundamental change in the “bureaucratic culture” of the immigration agency to one which emphasizes professionalism, accountability, and customer service. This culture must be inculcated throughout the agency by its leadership, and incorporated into the agency’s training of its personnel and the performance objectives it establishes for them. The agency’s personnel must also reflect the diversity of our nation’s immigrant community.

 

                        The immigration agency must recognize that organizations which work closely with immigrant communities have a deep understanding of the impact of immigration policies on the lives of the agency’s customers, and should become key partners with the agency in the development and implementation of policies and procedures, on both the national and local level.


Immigration Daily: the news source for
legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers
Enter your email address here: