INS unveils new structure, vows reform

April 18, 2002|By MATT YOUNG

Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — Exactly nine months after the Immigration and Naturalization Service approved the student visa application of suspected Sept. 11 terrorist Mohamed Atta, the INS vowed to reform itself Wednesday as it unveiled a new structure to enhance enforcement.

‘‘Recent events underscore the urgent need to restructure INS as quickly and efficiently as possible,'' said Attorney General John Ashcroft in a news release.

‘‘We are not merely moving boxes around an organizational chart,'' said INS Commissioner James Ziglar. ‘‘This is a landmark day in the history of the INS.''


The changes will create ‘‘a clear division between the agency's service and enforcement missions,'' Ziglar said, as well as enhance top-level authority over all offices.

Ziglar said he had trouble sending 300 Border Patrol agents to airports around the country after Sept. 11 because of a structure in which the ‘‘Border Patrol chief had no direct authority over his own organization.''

According to the new plan, the chief will have direct authority over all other patrol sectors.

‘‘While there have been partial reorganizations focused on headquarters, there have been no fundamental changes in the management structure of this organization where it is needed most — in the field.'' Ziglar said.

INS field operations have gone unchanged for 30 years.

Ziglar said the INS will have a new office of juvenile affairs, a social service agency that will attend to the needs of unaccompanied minors in INS custody.

Many members of Congress have said the INS should be abolished. The House Judiciary Committee voted 32-2 last week to replace the INS with a new agency for immigration enforcement and another for immigration services. The proposal now goes to the full House for a vote, probably Wednesday. A committee spokesman said the bill has a ‘‘very strong vote count.''

‘‘The INS has reorganized itself numerous times in the past two decades, but the agency is still in a deep quagmire,'' said Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis. ‘‘I don't think any additional attempt at internal reorganizing can pull the INS out of this morass in which it finds itself.''

In addition to the House bill and the INS' own reforms, the Senate may vote on a bill that would enhance U.S. border security and reform the visa process as early as today, said Scott Gerber, deputy press secretary for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. The House passed its version of the bill last December.

‘‘I only wish we were able to do more earlier,'' said Feinstein, one of the bill's sponsors.

The bill would add 3,000 inspectors and investigators to the northern and southern borders and would largely prohibit issuing student and tourist visas to those from countries determined by U.S. officials to sponsor international terrorism.

The bill would require schools to notify immigration authorities if a foreign student had not reported to school within 30 days of the beginning of the academic term and require immigration to closely monitor record keeping.

‘‘I think (monitoring) is going to be very difficult for us,'' said Sandra Standiford, dean of admissions at Imperial Valley College. ‘‘We as a campus do not have the personnel to take on the job of the INS.

"We issue student visas but I don't even know if they've been approved," Standiford said. "There has not been a lot of contact with the INS."

The college only has about 15 foreign students among its total student population of about 8,000, Standiford said.

Carol Robertson, associate director of the International Center at the University of California, San Diego, said barring foreign students from obtaining student visas just because they're from countries like Iraq and Syria could be problematic. About seven students at the university are from nations that could be targeted by U.S. officials, she said.

"Our mission at the International Center is to enhance cross-cultural understanding, including with countries we don't have diplomatic relations with," Robertson said.

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