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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.

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

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 appear before this committee again and share with you our perspectives on how the dysfunctional structure of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) impedes the performance of its dual missions.


            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 nations Latino elected officials, and conducting policy analysis and research on issues that are important to the Latino population. The NALEO Educational Funds constituency includes the more than 5,400 Latino elected and appointed officials nationwide.


            Now celebrating over twenty years of work, 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, the NALEO Educational Fund 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 share with you some of the problems we have encountered in dealing with the bureaucracy of the INS, together with our recommendations for restructuring the agencys functions.

 

              Millions of Americans can trace their family history to an immigrant. While images of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island with the Statue of Liberty behind them has been used as the preeminent symbol of immigration in America, todays newcomer experience is altogether different. What immigrants today find at the INS is inefficiency, complexity, huge backlogs and an institution that is confused because of its dueling missions of welcoming some immigrants while simultaneously preventing others from entering this nation. The INS has been justifiably criticized for not providing timely and consistent service for applicants, and for not developing a consistent and effective system for enforcing our immigration laws. However, Congress must also take responsibility for the unfunded, complicated and often-conflicting mandates it has placed on the agency. Since 1990, when the Commission on Immigration Reform recommended breaking up the INS, several reorganization proposals have been introduced in Congress. The efforts that have gained the most support and have the most credibility are those that have focused on the need to separate, but coordinate, the enforcement side and the service side of INS, put a high-level person responsible for developing and implementing a uniform immigration policy in charge, and provide adequate funding for adjudications.

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:

              Put Someone in Charge and Give that Person Clout: The Federal government needs to have one full-time, high-level person in charge of the nations immigration functions. Such authority vested in one person would improve accountability by fully integrating policy making with policy implementation, ensure direct access to high-level officials within the executive branch, and attract top-flight managerial talent. The new agencys local functions should be split, but the new agencys national leadership should not be.

Separate, but Coordinate, the Enforcement and Adjudication Functions: In restructuring the new immigration agency, we should establish separate immigrant adjudication areas and enforcement sectors, and separate chains of command and career tracks for each set of functions. This will lead to more clarity of mission and greater accountability from top to bottom within these distinct functions that, in turn, will lead to more effective adjudications and more accountable enforcement. However, any reorganization also needs to require coordination between the two functions to ensure the efficient and consistent implementation of a unified immigration policy. Dividing local adjudication and enforcement operations will benefit both, but cost efficiencies and necessary coordination are best served by a set of discrete shared functions. The most important of these is the need for shared information systems. For example, personnel should be able to access the same databases so that an adjudication officer does not approve an application for someone who has an outstanding order for deportation, or a deportation officer remove someone who is applying for political asylum.

Any new agency must be a unified one: All of our nations 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 agencys 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.

For those who say that a complete separation of enforcement and service operations is necessary in light of our nations security needs after September 11th, we ask: Would a complete separation of those operations increase managerial and budget efficiencies? Or would it reverse progress already achieved through increased funding and reform initiatives? Would separating INS enforcement programs from service programs result in a starved service program that would be ineffectual and underfunded? We believe creating two agencies runs counter to the call for greater consolidation of homeland security functions, streamlined information-sharing and command accountability.

The Agencys Adjudications Functions Must Have the Resources Needed to Provide Quality Customer Service: Rising fees, growing backlogs, and the need for more responsive customer service plague the adjudication function of the INS. In addition, Congressional appropriations support enforcement activities, while INS adjudications are primarily funded from user fees. This funding 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. For example, there has not been much talk recently about the naturalization backlog, because the INS has made such good progress in reducing U.S. citizenship application processing times. However, recent INS naturalization data reveal a spike in application submissions since the beginning of this fiscal year (October 2001). Only four months into Fiscal Year 2002, the INS has already received more than half of the number of applications it received last fiscal year. Where once the naturalization backlog had been reduced to nearly half a million applications, it has risen again to nearly three-quarters of a million applications pending. Consequently, if this spike becomes a larger surge, the INS may need additional funding to prevent a recurrence of the two-year delays in naturalization adjudications that once confronted newcomers. Our current system of financing adjudications simply does not provide any new agency enough flexibility to deal with unforeseen surges in the demand for application services.

In order to provide the agency with a stable and well-managed system for financing adjudications, we make the following recommendations:

              A) Examinations Fee Account money should not be used for any transition-related activity. This would only result in a diminution of services and perhaps even a fee increase during the transition period. We recommend the creation of a Transition Account, funded by appropriated monies, to manage the transition during INS restructuring.

              B) There must be explicit prohibitions against using Examinations Fee Account money for purposes other than the cost of providing adjudication 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. We are concerned that a failure to prevent funds deposited into the Examinations Fee account from being used for other, non adjudication-related purposes will starve the service side of the agency of needed resources and add to the massive backlogs that currently exist for a wide range of immigrant applications.

              C) Funds earmarked by Congress for backlog reduction must be protected by placing them into the Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvements Account established during the 106th Congress. Congress recognized the need to supplement user fee financing of immigration services by enacting the Immigration Services and Infrastructure Improvements Act, to provide a special account for appropriated monies for backlog reduction and infrastructure improvements. However, Congressional appropriations for these purposes have never been placed into the account. Placing these appropriations into the account will trigger a number of reporting mechanisms that would require the new agency 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 agency spends its resources efficiently and effectively.

D) Congress should consider separate appropriations for the adjudication of refugee and asylee applications. 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.

              E) Any new restructured agency must have the ability to reprogram Examinations Fee Account and appropriated money in a timely manner. 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. To avoid delays, we suggest that any restructuring plan include authorization for reprogramming 15 days after proper Congressional notification, if it has not received formal Congressional disapproval. This will provide the new agency the flexibility to respond to funding needs that are urgent or result from unforeseen changes in the demand for immigrant services.

Mr. Chairman, we remain committed to the belief that 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 must not allow the cost of naturalization to be beyond the reach of thousands of immigrants who are eager to become actively involved in our nations political and civic life. We also understand that providing any new agency with the fiscal resources it needs for its service operations is only one step toward making the fundamental changes that are required in our nations immigration functions. More funding will not guarantee competence and accountability in the implementation of our immigration policies.

              Mr. Chairman, in this regard, I would like to take a moment to praise the leadership of INS Commissioner James Ziglar. Mr. Ziglar has been under fire since the terrible tragedies of September 11th. However, we believe Commissioner Ziglar, in just seven months, has moved his new administrative team into action toward creating an environment more conducive to positive change, one which emphasizes professionalism, accountability, and customer service. This culture must be inculcated throughout the agency by its leadership, and the Commissioner has tried to do that in a very short period of time and under very trying times.

            In conclusion, we believe that INS reform is an idea whose time has come. We must seek to answers to what James Q. Wilson, professor of management and public policy at the University of California, cites in his book Bureaucracy, Why Government Agencies do what they do, as the most fundamental questions in any attempt at reform: What is the system supposed to do, and how should it be organized to do it? As we look around, we can see that the immigration challenges facing the nation have changed dramatically in recent years. The growth of the global economy, public policy debates, and new legislative mandates, particularly the sweeping 1996 immigration law - have made unprecedented enforcement and service demands on the INS. As history shows, the breadth of these changes, coupled with the agency's explosive growth, demands a change in the INS structure to meet the challenges of the 21st century.                         

            There is also an elementary principle of good management to which Professor Wilson refers that Congress should pay attention to: that bureaucracies tend to acquire the essence-and often the worst-of the behavioral characteristics of their leadership. This may be fine for those who would favor the elevation of our nations immigration enforcement priorities over its immigrant service priorities, and who would favor leadership with this type of mentality. An immigration agency, however, is much more than that: it is also about facilitating the entry of talented and hard-working newcomers who meet the various entry criteria; about delivering services to U.S. petitioners who have paid taxes and complied with our laws; and about naturalizing qualified immigrants who are eager to demonstrate their patriotism and commitment to this nation by becoming our newest Americans. If one has this more comprehensive perspective in mind, as many members of Congress and the Administration do, our path to reform may be easier to plot.

              Finally, immigrants who wish to fully participate in America should not be stranded in a bureaucratic maze. However, unless we restructure our nations 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 nations newcomers. 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.


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