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Our Opinion: Don't dismantle INS

April 17, 2002

It has been easy for those in Washington and elsewhere to make the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service the scapegoat for terrorist actions against this nation on Sept. 11.

We who live on the border, who see INS and Border Patrol agents working hard every day to try to protect both our borders and us, know better. And those of us who know better believe this INS reorganization rush infecting Congress is much ado about nothing, or much ado about not much.

We see nothing particularly wrong with the setup of the INS, and see no pressing need to separate the agency into two entities, one for enforcing immigration laws and one for handling citizenship and immigration matters. That is what the House of Representatives will vote on soon. A similar plan prepared by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is expected to emerge from the Senate.

Under the House bill the two agencies would remain under the umbrella of the Department of Justice and would report to an assistant attorney general for immigration. Under Kennedy's setup an independent administrator appointed by the president would oversee the operations of the two separate agencies.

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Rather than a radically different setup, we have a simpler solution. We would like to see the INS better funded. We would like to see better training for INS officers and Border Patrol agents (who are part of the INS) and better technology at our borders, but most of all we simply would like to see more INS and Border Patrol officers.

With the rush to the border from the south in recent years coupled with the pressing terrorism threat against our nation, a bigger force is a simple answer. With more officers with better training and better equipment, legal border crossings would be faster and better policed, illegal crossings would be more often stymied and those in the country illegally could be more readily captured and sent home.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar wants to split INS functions but keep the INS intact. We like his idea better than those coming from Congress. Under Ziglar's plan the federal government could avoid the costs of setting up new bureaucracies and still get the job done without tremendous tumult, something we can't afford in protecting our borders right now.

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