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INS REFORMS ARE OVERDUE



Published: Tue, November 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



INS REFORMS ARE OVERDUE

Miami Herald: The idea of restructuring the Immigration and Naturalization Service is welcome news. The troubled agency badly needs wholesale reform and refocusing. The plan announced earlier this month by attorney General John Ashcroft and INS Commissioner James Ziglar, moreover, takes the right structural approach.

A complete overhaul of agency customs and culture is vital, as well, if the INS ultimately is to improve how it protects our national security and serves legal immigrants and refugees.

Ziglar's plan is to split the INS into two bureaus along the lines of its key missions -- service and enforcement. The service bureau will take care of naturalizations, asylum petitions, work permits and other such requests. Enforcement would handle the border patrol, inspections at ports of entry, investigations and intelligence.

Such a separation should, as Ziglar says, clarify the chains of command. At the same time, keeping the INS commissioner at the top of both those chains ensures that someone remains accountable for interrelated functions.

Fiefdoms: Off the bat, the structural change offers another benefit: It will eliminate the INS's current regional structure, including the powerful district directors who too-often have run their operations as independent fiefdoms. This will be a good first step in changing INS culture.

Eliminating the INS's bunker mentality and penchant for secrecy also is critical to improving performance. Given the impossible and conflicting mandates handed the INS by Congress and the unceasing criticism of the agency by all sides over the years, its defensive traits may be understandable. However, these traits aren't acceptable in an open democracy.

Nor will covering for incompetent or corrupt INS personnel -- which sullies the good work of the agency's true professionals -- improve INS's service record or national security. A thorough house cleaning is overdue, including seeing through the probe into sexual misconduct and other abuses at Krome detention center.

Other issues raise concerns. As long as Congress maintains that services be self funded, the INS will have a tough time eliminating backlogs and other shortcomings without raising fees exorbitantly. Frankly, a legal immigrant who is applying for citizenship shouldn't have to subsidize asylum processing.

There will be areas, too, where service and enforcement are inextricable. The best example is at the airport. Under the plan, INS inspectors would fall under enforcement. Yet 99 percent of arrivals from abroad, including U.S. citizens, are law-abiding people. Foreign tourists and business people should be treated with due courtesy and respect, as ensured by proper training and supervision.

A reformed INS ideally will focus on guarding against terrorists and other threats while better serving the rest of us.




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