May 21, 1998

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, I am here to discuss the conclusions of a project that my colleagues, Alex Aleinikoff and Deborah Meyers, and I completed last month.

The immigration function today is extremely complex and cuts across a number of critical policy domains. Despite repeated efforts at modifying and reshuffling it over the last century, it continues to be plagued by weak coherence in policymaking and policy execution; poor customer service; unbalanced attention to service and enforcement functions; inability to keep up with the growth in both workload and complexity; and persistent lack of accountability.

There is a growing consensus that a significant restructuring of the immigration function needs to be undertaken-and a number of proposals have been offered. In evaluating these proposals, we think that three fundamental questions need to be addressed:

  • First, is the function assigned to an agency that has a deep commitment to immigration issues, and can perform effectively complex tasks;
  • Second, is the proposed structure capable of producing coherence in policy development and implementation;
  • Third, can the standing of the agency facilitate the ability of the executive branch to recruit and retain talented people to perform its various functions.

Judged by these standards, the Commission on Immigration Reform's proposal is plainly off the mark. By dismantling the INS and distributing its functions to departments whose core missions are far removed from immigration regulation, the Commission's plan violates all three of the standards I have just outlined.

Thus, while we agree with the Commission that enforcement and service responsibilities ought to be separated, we believe that the coherence of immigration policy demands that these functions reside within a single agency. This agency should have the standing to be a stronger advocate about its needs within the Administration and a more reliable partner to the Congress-while also being able to attract talented managers and analysts. Thus, we propose that the immigration function be elevated.

Further, we urge that immigration functions now scattered among different federal agencies with a variety of priorities be consolidated into a single agency. Labor certification (currently at Labor), visa, passport and most refugee and migration functions (at State), and refugee resettlement (at Health and Human Services) would gradually be consolidated under a single roof. Consolidation would follow a simple rule of thumb: if the function (or part of it) falls squarely within the central mission of the agency in which it is correctly located, it should stay there; if it does not, it should move to the new agency.

There are two ways to accomplish these goals. The first is to establish an independent agency within the Executive Branch to direct the nation's immigration system. Its purposes would be both facilitating and controlling entry, enforcing the law and delivering services, removing the deportable and naturalizing the qualified.

If congressional energy for real reform falters, a second-best alternative would be to elevate the immigration function within the Department of Justice through a new position of Associate Attorney General for Immigration. Reporting to this person would be two Assistant Attorney Generals-one for immigration services, the other for immigration enforcement.

Under both scenarios, service and enforcement functions would be separated within the agency. At the local level, separate immigrant service areas and enforcement sectors would be established. These steps would lead to greater accountability and better service for both immigrants and citizens, as the system benefits from greater policy coherence, improved mission clarity, and an infusion of new managerial talent.

The other options on the table are not up to the task.

  • The Commission's proposal to disperse the functions of the INS to other agencies would hinder policy coherence, handing off to agencies with no institutional commitment to immigration the same problems of accountability, management, and poor service that have dogged the INS.
  • Congressman Reyes' proposal to move the enforcement function into the Department of Justice, though partly consistent with our second scenario, fails to come to terms with the essential synergies between service and enforcement or address issues of policy coherence across the entire immigration function.
  • Finally, simply separating service and enforcement functions within the existing INS is an important step, but would neither improve policy making nor ensure that program delivery is consistent with a policy's intent. Most importantly, it does not seem likely to close the agency's credibility gap.

No one lightly proposes creating a new Federal agency. In 1970, President Nixon argued for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, using reasoning that closely parallels our own:

Every part of government is concerned with the environment in some way. Yet each department has also its own primary mission which necessarily affects its own view of environmental questions.

Because environmental protection cuts across so many jurisdictions and is . . . of great importance to the quality of life in our country and the world, I believe that in this case a strong, independent agency is needed.

We believe that circumstances call for another exception. If the immigration function is central to sound public policy across a variety of policy domains; if accountability and consistency in program delivery is as weak as many observers argue; if the service function is as much of a stepchild within the INS as even the agency's friends acknowledge, then creating a new agency and giving it the authority, resources and support it requires to do its job properly becomes a compelling choice.

Mr. Chairman, may I also urge you and the other Members of the Subcommittee to consider four additional issues in this regard.

  • First, if you are satisfied with dealing with four or five agencies when trying to devise thoughtful immigration policies or when overseeing their implementation-policies dealing with the intersection of immigration with human resources development policy, social benefits policy, employment policy, or foreign political and economic policy-then either the organizational status quo, or the INS plan, or the Commission plan are just fine. If you are not satisfied, however, if you have been frustrated both with the development and the implementation of policies, then you will need to look beyond the other proposals and support something along the lines we are proposing.
  • Second, there is an elementary principle of good management to which you need to pay attention in your deliberation: that bureaucracies of sub-agencies tend to acquire the essence-and often the worst-of the behavioral characteristics of the mother agency. This may be just fine for those who see the INS first and foremost (in fact, in some cases, almost exclusively) as a "keep those who don't belong here out" agency. An immigration agency, however, is much more than that: it is also about facilitating the entry of those who meet the various entry criteria, about delivering services to U.S. petitioners, about naturalizing those who qualify, etc. If one has this more comprehensive perspective in mind, as my colleagues and I do, you will find the Commission plan entirely unacceptable, the INS plan inadequate-too little, too late-and our plan the only worthwhile direction toward which to move.
  • Third, there is another simple rule that you might wish to consider here: in whichever direction you choose to move on restructuring, you should place the principles of good government front and center. The debate which these hearings inaugurate should not be about personalities or about partisan politics nor should it simply be the product of frustration-however justifiable that might be. Reform should be about doing things right for a change.
  • Finally, good government also requires that agencies be efficient without sacrificing effectiveness. One of the greatest advantages of our plan would be that, by creating a single administrative system that sees clients through from the time they apply for a visa to the time they apply for a U.S. passport, the gains in efficiency and effectiveness should be very substantial. Similarly, the savings in duplication and effort now devoted by the INS to "managing" its relationship with the Justice Department is another efficiency of our proposal that should not be overlooked.