This is not at all mundane or pointless, but I didn’t know where else to put it…
Tomorrow night will usher in the dawn of a new era: on March 1, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, along with numerous other government agencies, will be absorbed into the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
I’m trying to remain optimistic about what this will mean for the efficiency and sensibility of the immigration bureaucracy in the U.S., but it’s difficult. The sheer size of the merger/transfer is unprecedented; it will involve 22 Federal agencies and 170,000 employees. It sure doesn’t bode well that the new agency has already missed its first deadline (the merger of some 80 payroll systems). Nor does it bode well for law-abiding users of the immigration system (i.e. the vast majority) that most of those who have been named to management positions in the newly created agency have backgrounds in law enforcement and/or prosecution rather than in pure management of the provision of services.
For the moment we’ve been told that logistical issues will remain as they are now (office and mailing addresses will stay the same for now, as will most personnel; the new agency will continue to accept mail and checks addressed to INS for an indefinite period). However, many important issues still remain to be ironed out. Nearly half of current Customs and Inspections personnel will be eligible for retirement within the next five years. Tom Ridge has stated that he wants to combine the INS, Customs, and Agriculture inspections functions, so that in theory any person, suitcase, or freight container arriving at the border would be examined by a single person; given that at least on the immigration side of things, my office frequently has problems with inspections personnel not having a thorough knowledge of the immigration regulations they are responsible for enforcing now, I don’t see how the same personnel can reasonably be expected to retain triple the information.
In addition, there is an inherent conflict in my mind between the new agency’s antiterrorism and customer service missions. What will happen, for example, when someone shows up at an airport with no identity documents or obviously fake ones, and requests asylum? Will the enforcement mentality prevail, or will the U.S.’ adherence to international treaties on the treatment of refugees? Will we start to detain all asylum-seekers during the entire adjudication process? The new agency is supposed to be divided into a Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and a Border and Transportation Security Directorate, but so far it looks like they will share a single Office of Legal Counsel. So who will moderate disputes between the two sides of the agency’s mission? Since DHS will take over visa issuance at consulates overseas, what incentive will they have to be reasonable in issuing visas, if there is no recourse when they’re unreasonable?
Methinks my job will shortly become even more chaotic than it already is at times, and heck, I’m not even on the receiving end of most of the worst of it. The task of revamping existing legislation, regulations, forms, bureaucratic substructures, etc. will be mammoth, and will probably take at least several years and multiple lawsuits; for one thing, some employees of the various component agencies to be subsumed under DHS were unionized, but others weren’t, so there’s a lot of confusion about lines of authority, terms of employment, etc.
I just hope you non-U.S. Dopers don’t get caught in the middle of the dislocation. If you do, though, please post your issue, and I’ll try my best to address it.
Your thoughts/predictions? You can find INS information (for now, anyway) at www.immigration.gov, and DHS’ web site is finally up and running at www.dhs.gov (although many links just refer you back to the INS Web site).
Eva Luna, Immigration Paralegal