Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

From 1933 to 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was the agency of the U.S. Department of Justice responsible for enforcing immigration laws, administering immigration benefits, and, in conjunction with the Department of State, admitting and resettling refugees. The INS commissioner served under the attorney general, and in the last year of INS operation, oversaw the work of approximately 29,000 employees, who served in 33 districts and 21 Border Patrol sectors along 6,000 miles of border with Canada and Mexico.
The first commissioner of immigration was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln under a bill enacted by Congress (July 4, 1864) with the express purpose of “encouraging” immigration by collecting information about the United States and disseminating it throughout Europe. The measure authorized immigrants to sign labor contracts pledging up to one year of wages against transportation costs and provided for the establishment of an emigrant office in New York, New York. Four years later, the act was repealed, leaving authority over immigration matters to the states until the Immigration Act of 1891 provided clear federal control under the newly appointed Bureau of Immigration (BI). The bureau established 24 inspection stations, including one at Ellis Island. In 1903, the BI was transferred from the Department of the Treasury to the newly established Department of Commerce and Labor. The Naturalization Act (1906) briefly extended that function to the BI (1906–13). In a 1933 executive order, immigration and naturalization oversight were combined under the INS. In 1940, the INS was shifted from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice.
During the 1990s, enforcement programs took an increasingly larger portion of the INS budget. In 2001, 1.2 million people attempting to enter the United States illegally were caught and turned back to either Mexico or Canada. Greater vigilance came at a cost, however. Between 1993 and 2001, spending on enforcement programs grew more than six times as fast as spending on other immigrant programs and services, and the total budget ballooned from $1.52 billion to more than $5 billion. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (1996) gave the INS enhanced powers of removal and deportation, but the agency was widely criticized the following year for lax immigrant screening procedures. An independent audit showed that 18 percent of approximately 1 million immigrants between August 1995 and September 1996 were admitted before criminal checks were completed, and 71,000 were allowed to become citizens despite having criminal records. In August 1997, a federal advisory panel recommended abolition of the INS, with duties to be delegated to other agencies, but no action was taken on the recommendation. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, led by several hijackers who were in the United States illegally, invited further criticism of the INS, provoking a national debate on the effectiveness of the agency. Congressional hearings on restructuring the INS were held in late 2001 as part of the larger national security debate. President George W. Bush signed the resulting Homeland Security Act on November 25, 2002. The act abolished the INS as of March 1, 2003, transferring its functions to various agencies within the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Immigration services formerly provided by the INS were transferred to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; enforcement oversight, to the Border Transportation Security Directorate; border control, to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and interior enforcement, to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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