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Dismantling the INS

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What Was The INS?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was a federal agency established in 1933 to enforce the laws of naturalization and to prevent illegal immigration into the country. The INS had the power to investigate, detain and deport suspected illegal immigrants. Interestingly, the INS could not detain or deport illegal immigrants in their homes.

What Happened To The INS?

In 2003, the INS was dismantled and replaced with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The main purpose in so doing was to tighten up immigration requirements in order to protect the United States from future acts of terrorism by immigrants.

The INS’s contacts with two 9/11 terrorists were reviewed by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in 2002, and found to be inadequate.  Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi entered the U.S. on tourist visas, but tried to get student visas while they were in the U.S. in order to stay longer and attend flight school.

The OIG criticized the INS for its delay in processing the change of status applications.  OIG also criticized the INS for continuing to mail the student visas to the school after the attacks had already occurred.  This showed incompetence. In addition, information contained in the visas should have been accessed immediately, and were important to prevent future attacks that were believed to be imminent.

Finally, the OIG criticized the INS for having no kind of accountability or tracking of foreign students living within the U.S.  OIG concluded that inspectors and investigators were operating in darkness before 9/11.  They were forced to make critical decisions about student aliens without having access to important information affecting their decisions.

The INS’s defense was that only one out of 19 hijackers entered the U.S. on a student visa.  The rest entered on tourist visas, so the OIG should not have pointed the finger only at the INS’s student visa program.  However, evidence of the tourist visa applications show scribbled writing and wrong answers that should have been red-flagged.

These failures led to the dismantling of the INS.

What Replaced the INS?

The INS was replaced by the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS itself is divided into the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

What Is the Difference Between the INS and the DHS?

The biggest difference is in organization. The INS was once under the control of the Department of Justice, so it was not uncommon for the FBI to work closely with the INS. As such, the INS was subject to the same criminal procedures that the FBI had to follow. Since the Department of Homeland Security is a separate department from the Department of Justice, the DHS often follows an entirely different labyrinth of procedures than the Department of Justice. The most significant procedure difference is that the previous INS prohibition about raiding homes is not followed by its successor agencies.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 02-11-2013 03:00 PM PST

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