U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced a restructuring of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The revamped INS will separate its law enforcement and service responsibilities to streamline their operations. The move coincides with the Justice Department's anti-terrorism campaign in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
The overhaul pre-empts congressional efforts to split the INS into two separate agencies or abolish it altogether. Critics have long complained that immigration services had become inefficient and cumbersome. Under the new plan, the INS will divide its enforcement and service divisions but maintain a unified command at the top.
Mr. Ashcroft also has toughened immigration security measures to weed out terrorist suspects. The aim of the U.S. immigration service, he says, should be to welcome newcomers who want to contribute to the United States but not those who want to destroy it. "The restructuring of the immigration institutions we undertake today will make the INS a better servant to our friends and a greater obstacle to our enemies," said Mr. Ashcroft.
Mr. Ashcroft says the INS will also be able to detain and deport terrorist aliens already in the United States. "Under the restructuring plan being announced today, the INS will continue to serve and assist new immigrants to the United States," he said. "The INS will also be an important part of our effort to prevent aliens who engage in or support terrorist activity from entering our country."
The INS overhaul also calls for an integrated policing force that can respond quickly in the campaign against terrorism, people smuggling and other illegal immigration activities. Immigration experts say the INS has lacked the resources to do the job with only 2,000 agents in the field.
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, immigration procedures have come under closer scrutiny. Thirteen of the 19 hijackers had entered the country as legal immigrants.
As part of the anti-terrorism campaign the U.S. State Department now has imposed a 20-day waiting period for young men applying for visas from countries with large Muslim populations. The Justice Department also wants to question some 5,000 Arab and Muslim men already in the United States.