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House votes to split INS into two bureaus

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Capping years of frustration, the House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to overhaul the beleaguered Immigration and Naturalization Service, splitting up its law enforcement and service roles into separate bureaus within the Justice Department.

"After all the bungling and mistakes by INS, it's time to start over," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., whose rare piece of bipartisan legislation passed the House, 405-9.

Sensenbrenner said the House action would "put great pressure on the Senate to act on this promptly" so an overhaul could begin in the fall.

Until recent days, administration officials said the bill was not needed because the INS was undergoing a restructuring that did not require congressional action.

But a series of embarrassments over visas issued to the Sept. 11 hijackers fueled momentum for more drastic action.

The lopsided House vote followed an outpouring of frustrations over the shortcomings of the 36,000-person, $5-billion agency. House members decried the lax enforcement that permitted foreign terrorists to enter the country and carry out their Sept. 11 attacks.

On Thursday, Attorney General John Ashcroft visited Capitol Hill to say he could support the bill.

The House measure establishes a new position of associate attorney general to oversee the two new agencies, Immigration Enforcement and Citizenship and Immigration Services. The bill says the appointee must have at least five years' experience running a "large and complex organization."

Administration officials oppose the five-years requirement, which INS Commissioner James Ziglar does not meet

A Senate bill crafted by Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., would create an independent commissioner over both agencies. It might be introduced next week, a Senate aide said.

During Thursday's debate, several House members said the INS was the worst federal agency for providing basic services. They joked that its real title was "Incompetent and Negligent Service" and "Ignoring National Security."

Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., was among those criticizing the INS for issuing student visa confirmations to two Sept. 11 hijackers six months after the attacks.

"The INS has had its visa revoked and has been deported," Foley said.

Several House members cautioned that the legislation amounted to bureaucratic reshuffling and did not guarantee better service or improved border security.

"All this bill does is take one inefficient agency and create two inefficient agencies," said Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C. "Will the lines be any shorter at a new INS? No."

The bill's backers, including immigration experts from both parties, said the new agencies would include an ombudsman's office to monitor the handling of services and a special office to handle children's issues.

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