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INS ...By the Numbers


The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), an agency of the Department of Justice, is responsible for enforcing the laws regulating the admission of foreign-born persons (i.e., aliens) to the United States and for administering various immigration benefits, including the naturalization of qualified applicants for U.S. citizenship. INS also works with the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services and the United Nations in the admission and resettlement of refugees. INS is headed by a Commissioner who reports to the Attorney General.

INS Responsibilities

Administer immigration-related services:
  • Immigrant and nonimmigrant sponsorship
  • Adjustment of status
  • Work authorization and other permits
  • Naturalization
  • Refugees and asylum
Enforce immigration laws and regulations:
  • Border control
  • Port-of-entry inspections
  • Detention and removal of criminal aliens
  • Worksite enforcement
  • Apprehension of illegal aliens and workers
  • Deportations and exclusions
  • Denial of benefits to ineligible applicants
  • Document fraud


The operational and management functions of INS are administered through INS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. that oversees approximately 29,000 employees through three Regional Offices and the headquarters-based Office of International Affairs. These offices are responsible for directing the activities of 33 districts and 21 Border Patrol sectors throughout the United States and three district offices and 39 area offices outside U.S. territory. INS field offices provide direct service to applicants for benefits under the Immigration and Nationality Act and implement INS policies to carry out statutory enforcement responsibilities in their respective geographical areas. Overseas offices, in addition, serve as important information channels between INS and U.S. Foreign Service officers and foreign government officials abroad.

A Brief History

The first immigration office in the federal government was created in 1864 by a law intended to encourage immigration. Under this law, the President appointed a Commissioner of Immigration within the State Department to regulate the transportation and settlement of "emigrants," but the law had no effect on the commissions, boards or other officers who were responsible for immigration in each of the states. The Commissioner’s office was abolished when the law was repealed four years later, leaving authority over immigration, including enforcement of federal statutes, at the state level.

Because of problems caused by the divided authority over immigration, the Immigration Act of 1891 was passed, establishing complete and definite federal control over immigration through a Superintendent of Immigration under the Secretary of the Treasury. The new Bureau of Immigration began with 24 inspection stations (including Ellis Island in January 1892) at ports of entry along both land borders and in major seaports. From this early structure, the immigration side of the present INS evolved. In 1903, the Bureau of Immigration was moved to the newly established Department of Commerce and Labor and was given broader responsibilities.

The naturalization role of INS began when Congress passed the Naturalization Act of 1906, which shifted the function from the courts. The new law created the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to administer and enforce U.S. immigration laws and supervise the naturalization of aliens. The combined functions lasted only seven years as naturalization became a separate bureau again in 1913 when the Department of Commerce and Labor was split into two departments. Immigration and naturalization functions remained separate until 1933 when an Executive Order consolidated both functions under the Immigration and Naturalization Service within the Labor Department.

INS moved to the Department of Justice in June 1940 in a reorganization meant to provide more effective control over aliens at a time of increasing international tensions.

Recent Legislation

The Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 were seen as the most far-reaching revision of U.S. immigration policy since 1921. Nationality and ethnic considerations were replaced with a system based primarily on reunification of families, needed skills and recognition of refugees. Eastern Hemisphere immigration was granted a higher ceiling than that for the Western Hemisphere. In 1978 the two were combined into a single worldwide ceiling of 290,000. Two years later, refugees gained their own separate category exclusive of the immigrant ceiling. The major source of immigration to the United States has shifted since 1965 from Europe to Latin America and Asia, reversing a two-century trend.

By enacting the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Congress sought to eliminate the jobs magnet in the United States via employer sanctions or penalties for any employer who knowingly employed someone unauthorized to work in the United States. To deal humanely with those who had put down roots in the United States, a legalization program or nationwide amnesty allowed nearly 3 million people who had been in the United States illegally since 1982 to stay.

The major changes of the Immigration Act of 1990 involved an increase in total immigration under an overall flexible cap, an increase more than doubling annual employment-based immigration and a permanent provision for the admission of "diversity" immigrants from underrepresented countries. It also revised the grounds for exclusion and deportation.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 includes increases in criminal penalties for immigration-related offenses and measures designed to enhance INS presence and enforcement at the border. The 1996 Act comprehensively reorganized the process of removal for inadmissible and deportable aliens, including an expedited removal process for inadmissible aliens arriving at ports of entry. It includes restrictions on the eligibility of aliens for public benefits and imposes new requirements on sponsors of alien relatives for immigration.

INS . . . by the Numbers

  • Oversees more than 300 land, air and sea ports of entry. In FY 2001, more than 510 million inspections of individuals arriving in the United States were conducted at these ports.
  • Oversees 6,000 miles of U.S. border with Mexico and Canada.
  • Maintains 33 district offices and 21 Border Patrol sectors in the United States.
  • Operates three international districts that manage 39 overseas offices, one third of which were added since FY 1997.
  • Budget increased by more than 230 percent between FY 1993 ($1.5 billion) and FY 2001 ($5.0 billion). During this period, spending for enforcement programs grew from $933 million to $3.1 billion, nearly five times as much as spending for citizenship and other immigrant services, which increased from $261 million to $679 million. The cost of shared support for the two missions increased from $525 million in 1993 to $1.1 billion in 2001.
  • Collected approximately $1.7 billion in fees for services in FY 2001, more than double the amount collected in 1993.
  • Increased its full-time, permanent staff by 79 percent from FY 1993 (17,163) to the end of FY 2001 (30,701). Most of this growth occurred in the enforcement programs, where the total number of employees, including officers, grew from 11,418 to 23,364. Border Patrol led the way with an increase of 7,962 employees or 159 percent.
  • Apprehended 1,235,000 illegal aliens along the Southwest border in FY 2001.
  • Removed 176,549 criminal and other illegal aliens in FY 2001. The number of criminal aliens removed (71,346) alone exceeded the total number of all illegal aliens removed in FY 1995 (50,924).
  • More than doubled the number of detention bed spaces available since FY 1995, with the current capacity at about 20,000 beds. (The Detention and Deportation staff nearly doubled, growing to 3,475 full-time permanent staff by FY 2001.)
  • Expanded use of sophisticated computer technology by providing more than 90 percent of its employees with access to a personal computer, as compared to only 35 percent in FY 1993.
  • Successfully completed (subject was prosecuted, removed, or denied benefits as a result of investigation) 9,370 criminal alien cases in FY 2001, an increase of 11 percent over FY 2000.
  • Received 7.9 million applications for immigration benefits, including naturalization, in 2001, nearly 31 percent more than received in 2000.
  • Received 7.4 million naturalization applications from 2001 through 1998, more than had been received in the previous 42 years combined.
  • Opened 127 new Application Support Centers since FY 1998 to fingerprint applicants for naturalization and other benefits.
  • Holds more than 43 million files, including approximately 20 million active files.