INS at Work
The INS and Its Responsibilities

As presently organized, the Immigration and Naturalization Service is responsible for a set of diverse, challenging and in some ways contradictory tasks. And with the attacks of 9/11 and President Bush's subsequent plan to make the INS an important part of the Department of Homeland Security, these responsibilities may well be become even more difficult.

Right now, for example, the INS's functions include the following:

     • Inspect the travelers entering or attempting to enter the United States through more than 300 official ports of entry.

    • Regulate permanent and temporary immigration to the United States, including individuals seeking legal permanent resident status, those who wish to become citizens and nonimmigrant visitors like tourists and students.

    • Control the borders.

    • Identify and remove people who have no lawful immigration status in the United States.

Like the FBI and DEA, the INS today is an investigative arm of the Justice Department. Assuming President Bush's reorganization plan is approved by Congress, the INS—along with the Coast Guard, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA), the Federal Protective Services (GSA) and several other agencies—will become a part of the Border and Transportation Security Branch of the Department of Homeland Security.

In FY 2001, the INS had 31,971 full-time employees. Three out of four of these employees (24,233) were classified as enforcement personnel. The largest component of enforcement, with 9,651 employees, is the Border Patrol. As suggested by its name, this group attempts to prevent illegal migrants from slipping into the United States, most frequently across the border from Mexico. Immigration inspectors, 4,691 of them, make up the agency's second largest occupational group of the INS. They are mostly assigned to the country's ports of entry, checking travel documents and searching for contraband. The agency's 3,909 detention enforcement officers operate centers where detained individuals are held. A fourth major group in the agency are the criminal investigators responsible for developing criminal cases against illegal immigrants, smugglers, providers of fraudulent documents and other violators. In 2001 there were 1,974 of them. Other enforcement personnel include: immigration agents, adjudications officers, detention and deportation officers. This fifth component of the agency's enforcement staff consisted of 4,008 general enforcement and support personnel.

The raw tallies of agency's work product are impressive. In a recent year, the INS reports it conducted more than 500 million inspections at the nation's ports of entry. According to other agency data, the INS said that in FY 2001 data there were 185,132 "total removals."

But, as noted in a steady stream of reports by the General Accounting Office, assessing the actual impact of all of these inspection, patrol and enforcement activities is extremely difficult. The INS itself estimated several years ago that there were between 4.6 and 5.4 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and that time the number of the undocumented individuals was growing at about 275,000 a year.

Whatever the actual impact of the INS enforcement and regulatory efforts, beginning in the mid-1980s a new wave of public concern about illegal immigrants resulted in the White House and Congress pumping more and more money into the agency. One result: a major jump in INS staff. The largest increases were seen in the number of Border Patrol agents. From 1975 through 1984, while there were modest increases in the actual number of agents, the growth kept pace with the general population size so that there averaged about 10 Border Patrol agents for every million in the general population. This began changing in the mid to late 1980s so that by 1993 there were 15 Border Patrol agents for every million in population. Since then the growth in hiring has accelerated. By September 2001 there were 9,651 Border Patrol agents on the payroll -- or 34 agents per million in the general population. Indeed, with personnel turnover and the growth in authorized positions, the INS as of July 15, 2002 had upwards of two thousand positions it had not been able to fill, even though the agency had already hired 1,146 agents during fiscal 2002.

Over the years the agency has suffered from repeated corruption problems, management failures and political embarrassments. Year after year, dozens of INS employees have been arrested for taking bribes and related crimes. In 1991, Attorney General Dick Thornburgh became so concerned about the state of the agency that he stepped in and removed a number of senior managers. More recently, independent audits determined that a flawed citizenship process had resulted in thousands of immigrants being naturalized without proper criminal background checks. Congressional critics of a few years ago, led by Representative Lamar Smith, Republican of Texas, asserted the problem had developed partly because of a desire of the Democratic administration to put new voters on the roles before the 1996 presidential campaign.

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