Ashcroft announces INS split

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will be split into two agencies — one to process immigrants and visitors and the other to protect the nation's borders — Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Nov. 14.

The split, Ashcroft said, is part of his "wartime restructuring" of the Justice Department to better protect the United States against terrorism.

Ashcroft's INS overhaul comes less than a week after two Republican congressmen introduced legislation to divide INS into two better-functioning bureaus. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) called INS "the most dysfunctional agency in the federal government."

INS is to be split into a services bureau and a law enforcement bureau by Sept. 30, 2003, Ashcroft said.

In announcing the INS breakup, Ashcroft said, "The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 underscored in the most painful way for Americans that we need better control over individuals coming to our shores from other nations."

INS has been sharply criticized for its inability to prevent criminals and other undesirables from entering the United States and for losing track of visitors once they arrive. Millions overstay their visas each year, undetected by INS computer systems and databases, which are in disarray.

Ashcroft vowed that the reformed INS will do better. It will "detain and in some cases deport terrorist aliens already in our country, terrorist aliens that have violated immigration laws," he said.

Inability to keep track of aliens is only part of INS' information technology problems. The immigration agency is incapable of timely processing of applications for visas and permanent resident "green cards" due to inadequate computer systems.

INS Commissioner James Ziglar promised that "we're going to be building on our information technology resources" and eliminate agency "stovepipes" so that various elements within the new bureaus, such as the Border Patrol and intelligence agents, can better share information.

Ashcroft said the Justice Department — INS' parent agency — will name a new chief information officer to ensure that the two new bureaus have adequate access to needed computer databases.

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