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Advocates Fear New US Security Agency to Harm Government Help for Immigrants - 2002-12-17


Advocates fear immigrant services could be hurt by changes in the structure of the U.S. government brought about by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A New York immigrant advocacy group is raising concerns as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is merged into the new Department of Homeland Security.

The New York Immigration Coalition says it fears that placing immigration services within an internal security department will jeopardize the historical mission of the INS.

Under the recently enacted Homeland Security Act, the 34,000 employees and functions of the INS will be split between two agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.

The executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, Margie McHugh, says immigration advocates fear uniting families, admitting talented workers and protecting the persecuted may lose their importance. And she worries that immigration services will receive far less funding and attention.

"The Bureau of Immigration Services is what we would say 'low down in the feeding chain' and very far away from the centers of power within the agency so it is very unlikely that services are going to fare any better under this new agency than they did this past year when they were within the Justice Department very close up to the centers of power in the administration."

The New York Immigration Coalition is an umbrella organization for about 150 New York State groups that work with immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Ms. McHugh says immigrant communities are eager to see the U.S. government take steps to make the nation safer. But she says they predict ballooning backlogs and application processing delays. She says current problems with INS staffing, funding, coordinating and technology will only worsen under the splintering of immigration functions within the new department.

Guillermo Chacon of the Salvadoran American National Network says immigrants caught in the changeover are going to have a difficult new year.

"The Homeland Security is a good idea, but when in the name of security you would be punished [as] immigrants, then it is something that we really need to sit down and realize that we are really hitting the wrong people, the people that are making a tremendous contribution in this society," he said.

The report calls for the reducing of application processing times to six months, as promised in President Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, and for the development of systems that will improve decision procedures regarding applications.

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