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Homeland Security's Impact on Immigration Policy

Senate Should be warry of Homeland Security's Impact on Immigration Policy


02.27 For Immediate Release

July 30, 2002

Senate Should be Wary of Homeland Security's Impact on Immigration Policy as it Debates the Fate of the INS

* House approves Bush's executive Department of Homeland Security, which includes the INS's enforcement responsibilities.

* Debate centers on civil service status for staff of new senior cabinet post, but only slightly touches on the much more important new role for the INS.

* White House's push-pull policy is its dirty little secret.

* Original goal of reorganizing INS in order to ensure efficiency and consistency of immigrant services lost amidst War on Terrorism paranoia.

* Administration slips over domestic policy issues, including the wish-list of the all-important Hispanic voting bloc.

For nearly a year, Washington has been consumed by rhetoric focused on protecting America. The indelible scar left by September 11 certainly justified an emphasis on the newly re-packaged concept of homeland defense. The Bush administration was quick to extract a distinct political advantage from the tense atmosphere recently gripping the country, by insisting that all nations it denominated as enemies of the United States be held accountable for past, present and future negative actions and attitudes. By practically ignoring other important and frequently complex domestic policy issues, as well as reducing the country's international focus mainly to the "war on terrorism," the White House exposes itself to punishing political blows, as demonstrated by the country's current volatile economic situation.

As the stock market continues its roller coaster ride, President Bush and Governor Tom Ridge forcefully push Homeland Security legislation through the Senate, having just been successful with House passage of H.R.

5005, sponsored by Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX). Initially caught up in the center of the debate, but now pushed to the margin by the confrontation over the civil service status of the new departments employees, is the fate of that long-denounced institution, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

Attempts at INS Re-organization

The need to restructure the hapless INS has never been contested. A wide consensus acknowledges the agency's gross inefficiency and general failure to adequately fulfill its mandate as the professional managers of immigrant services and the enforcer of laws regulating the flow of visitors into and out of U.S. territory. However, 9/11 dramatically heated the debate over how the INS should be reorganized. In April, bills began to be introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, notably the Barbara Jordan Immigration Reform and Accountability Act of 2002 and a similar measure sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) in the upper House. Both measures recommended the abolition of the INS as it now stands, in order to more effectively handle immigrant services, while still preserving the mechanisms to carry out non-enforcement services that would be left within the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, both of these bills died within the whirlwind of activity surrounding the proposed formation of the new Department of Homeland Security. While some proponents ardently lobbied to include both branches of the INS in this new department, the more civil-rights-minded activists continued to believe that the agency must retain its autonomy within the Justice department, so that justice better than security issues be served.

However, given the administration's impressive vote last Friday on the House floor, it is almost certain that the agencies will be split between the two cabinet departments.

Immigration * Terrorism

The House version of Homeland Security, passed by a more than two to one vote, enthusiastically gave its approval to the administration's draft (including the INS border control and enforcement move to Homeland Defense). Although the vote of 295 to 132 was a convincing victory, both Democrats and some Republicans voiced anxieties over the future of the non-security related functions of INS which the legislation would assign to the new agency. University of California Davis School of Law Professor Bill Ong Hing perhaps stated it best before a June 26 Senate Sub-committee on Immigration hearing; he explained, the United States cannot afford to "sweep away rationality in [its] attempt to search for enemies." In this case, the irrational action would be granting the Department of Homeland Security even partial control over the INS in order to better protect our borders. As passed on Friday, the proposed Homeland Security cabinet post will contain four divisions: Border and Transportation Security; Emergency Preparedness and Response; Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Countermeasures; and Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection.

The security half of the INS will fall under the first of these. While President Bush has pledged to maintain immigration services and law enforcement as separate entities, this will prove virtually impossible on a de facto basis. Despite the most recent decision to keep Immigration Services and Adjudications in the Justice Department (relocating Enforcement and Border Affairs to Homeland Security), immigrant communities are sure to suffer once the INS programs begin to be hijacked by the new mega-agency.

The High Cost of Compromise

There is another pressing dilemma negating coherent immigration policy. While, for security purposes, the administration says it wants to better control the U.S. border with Mexico, President Bush's big business cronies and major funders do not necessarily want a restricted border, since they depend on a flow of cheap illegal labor for their factories and farms. Nothing in this legislation addresses this inherent conflict, nor the large number of undocumented persons who die while crossing the border. The administration's dirty little secret is that it means to allow hundreds of thousands of illegals into this country by one means or another because it believes that the economy requires it. With this in mind, the immigrants who manage to avoid being picked up while crossing the border are all but guaranteed illegal residence in this country.

While the present arrangement represents an attempt at a compromise to appease critics on both sides of the reorganization process, it can only have a grievous impact once the legislation is fully fleshed out.

Including any part of the INS in the Homeland Security Department inevitably will open the door to human rights complications, posed by potential witch-hunts, outright racial profiling and coping with the "terrorist" cabal of the day. There is, no doubt, a fine line between protecting the country from actual threats and compromising civil rights and sensitive diplomatic relations with important neighbors like Mexico.

Moreover, this most recent proposal for the INS's reorganization is likely to land Washington on the wrong side of that line.

The decision to move INS enforcement to the Department of Homeland Security will outrage many, casting doubt over the amount of quality attention immigrant services will receive if that division is moved from the Justice Department. Given the recent focus on homeland security and the fight against terrorism, critics fear that immigrant services will all but languish, overshadowed by the enforcement function. According to spokeswomen from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), immigration service and enforcement measures are inextricably linked.

Therefore, AILA did not back Rep. Armey's legislation, as it would violate that concept by separating the two elements of the INS. In order to best continue to serve this country's immigrant communities, AILA believes that everything having to do with immigration should remain within the Justice Department. An AILA spokeswoman stressed that the most imperative thing to remember is that immigration must not be equated with terrorism. Putting part of the INS into Homeland Security will go a long way to guarantee this association and would represent a most tragic turn in U.S.

immigration policy. Better that both traditional functions of the INS be placed in the Homeland Security Department than to have the functions split between the two departments, say some critics.

Hispanic Concerns

At a time when the Hispanic vote is becoming more and more important, the Bush administration would do well to consider the wishes of such constituents. Instead of hypocritically pledging support for an amnesty measure, (which has gained more widespread and bipartisan approval thanks to Rep. Dick Gephart's (D-MO) sponsorship of legislation to this effect), perhaps the White House should reflect on the message that effectively sealing this country's borders would send abroad. If the United States is a country built on the hard work of immigrants, this legacy should not be permitted to become only a cliché-driven reference to a distant past, but should remain one which reflects contemporary times. Indeed, compromising the role of the INS, as is now proposed by the White House, could turn its present admittedly dysfunctional role into a mechanism which is even more likely to breed rancor and fear than protect our homeland.

This analysis was prepared by Research Associate Christina M. Fetterhoff of the COHA research group.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers."

For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 216-9193, or email coha@coha.org.


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