The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly supported a bill that essentially breaks up the INS and creates two separate agencies: one to handle enforcement and another to deal with immigration services. The April 25 vote passed by a 405-9 vote. The INS breakup bill, introduced by house Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), had been endorsed only hours before by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who made a special trip to the Capital for that purpose.
The Bush administration had not originally supported the bill. Rather, it wanted to divide functionality within the agency, while keeping it intact. And, while Ashcroft officially backed the bill Thursday, statements made to the press implied that Ashcroft envisions a slightly different plan of action. “I think all the parties here understand that the way you get laws done in the United States is that we all work together,” Ashcroft said. “This is an important first step essential to the journey’s end, but not sufficient to get us there.”
The proposed bill will create one agency that focuses solely on enforcement and another that deals with legal immigration issues. The enormous House support is due in large part to perceived notions of ineptitude in INS. Notices of approved visa extensions were mailed to two of the 19 September 11 hijackers a few months after the World Trade Center attack, and one hijacker continued to receive a government aviation newsletter after 9/11.
Described as tough love by Sensenbrenner, the bill’s proposed two agencies will stay under Ashcroft’s jurisdiction at the Justice Department. The majority of the House is obviously dedicated to massive restructuring. Said House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO), “I think this is an issue in which reform is expected and needed.” And Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), stated that, “The common goal of ridding our system of an incompetent agency that costs people their lives is a worthy one.”
But the nine representatives that voted against the bill appeared concerned that the two new agencies would remain as unproductive as the INS. “You’ve got one inefficient unproductive INS now,” said Rep. Melvin Watt, D-NC. “It seems to me what you’re going to end up with is two inefficient agencies.” Similarly, the American Immigration Lawyers Associates (AILA), who supports INS reorganization, expressed concern in a recent press release over two bureaus that could end-up working at cross-purposes. “AILA supports the separation of enforcement and adjudications functions, but for such separation to succeed also supports the creation of one strong central authority in control and effective coordination between the two functions.”