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Dear Editor:
AILA has issued the following press release:

Washington, D.C. - Reorganization of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is critical whether or not the INS is included in the proposed homeland security department, according to testimony released today by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

“There is broad consensus, reflected in bipartisan legislation in Congress, that the INS needs to be reorganized,” said Kathleen Walker, who testified today and yesterday on AILA’s behalf at House and Senate hearings on immigration reform and homeland defense. “Now, with the announcement of a homeland security department, INS reform is more critical than ever.”

The principles on which an effective reorganization of the INS must be based are the same whether or not the INS is included in the homeland security department, according to the testimony. The principles—spelled out in the bipartisan INS restructuring bill, S. 2444—are: coordinate the separated service and enforcement functions, place at the helm a leader with the authority to develop and administer immigration policy for the entire agency, and adequately fund INS so that it can carry out its mission.

“An effective immigration system is crucial to our national security,” commented Walker. “And a fair immigration system is fundamental to who we are as a people and a nation of immigrants.”

AILA believes that our nation is best served by keeping the immigration system outside of the new homeland agency. If it is included within the new agency, however, it needs to be a separate division—not part of the proposed Border and Transportation Security division—to function effectively and fairly.

AILA also believes that the new agency must include a civil rights and oversight function to ensure that the new agency upholds the Constitution and the basic rights of all persons; visa processing needs to remain a function of the State Department, which sets visa issuance policy, to avoid the chaos that would result from separating policy and process; and the Executive Office of Immigration Review must not be brought into the new agency, but rather made an independent agency in order to guarantee the impartiality and checks and balances of our justice system.

“Creating a department of homeland security is an enormous undertaking, and Congress must take the time to get it right,” said Walker. “We cannot afford the mistakes and oversights of a hasty examination. There is too much at stake.”

In her testimony, Walker cautioned Congress to enhance our security without harming our internationally based economy, our dedication to respecting individual rights preserved by the Constitution, and our tradition as a nation of immigrants.

“Nowhere is there a greater call for change than in reforming our immigration laws to enhance our security, support our economy and American businesses, and reunite families,” said Walker.

Walker also emphasized that the bureaucratic restructuring created through the Homeland Security Department cannot take the place of either a comprehensive homeland security strategy or the need to reform outmoded immigration laws.

“The goals of a new Homeland Security Department cannot be achieved until our immigration laws are reformed to make legality the norm,” Walker added. “This can be achieved through the U.S./Mexico discussions.”

American Immigration Lawyers Association