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14. Reform the Immigration System

The United States is a Nation of immigrants. Unfortunately, today when new immigrants arrive on our shores, their first experience is often one of frustration and anxiety. The Administration believes that legal immigrants should be greeted with open arms, rather than endless lines. We must be responsive to those who seek to immigrate to this country by legal means, and to those who have emigrated and now seek to become U.S. citizens.

While we seek to improve the system that welcomes legal immigrants, the United States is a Nation of laws and must act to combat illegal immigration. Working through the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the Federal Government should take additional steps to defend the security and stability of our Nation against the threats of organized crime, drug traffickers, and terrorist groups. The Administration is committed to improving U.S. immigration law enforcement and ensuring the safety of our borders.

Accelerating INS Processes Pertaining to Citizenship and Benefits: The Administration is committed to building and maintaining an immigration services system that ensures integrity, provides services accurately and in a timely manner, and emphasizes a culture of respect. It often takes three years or more for INS to process immigration applications and/or petitions. At times, in some areas of California, Federal delays in processing adjustment of status applications have averaged 52 months; in some areas of Texas, delays have averaged 69 months; in some areas of Arizona, 49 months; in some areas of Illinois, 37 months.

To improve INS' focus on service and to reduce the delays in INS processing of immigration applications, the Administration proposes a universal six-month standard for processing all immigration applications. To meet this standard, the Administration supports a five-year, $500 million, initiative to fund new personnel, introduce employee performance incentives to process cases quickly and accurately, and make customer satisfaction a priority. The $100 million proposed in 2002 is the first installment in this effort to provide quality service to all legal immigrants, citizens, businesses, and other INS customers.

Strengthening Border Control and Enforcement: The budget provides funds to support additional Border Patrol agents, as well as technology to supplement the new agents. Congress authorized hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents between 1997 and 2001. To date, INS has received funding for roughly 3,860 new agents. In order to hire and train the remaining agents that are needed, the President's Budget requests $75 million to fund 570 new agents per year in each of 2002 and 2003. With the new agents to be added, it is estimated that about 11,000 agents will be deployed along the Nation's Northern and Southern borders by the end of 2003. This is 12 percent more than 2001 and represents more than 175 percent growth in agent staffing since 1993. In addition, $20 million is requested for 2002 to fund intrusion detection technology including high-resolution color and infrared cameras and state-of-the-art command centers as force multipliers to supplement the new agents and provide continuous monitoring of the border from remote sites. The proposed combination of intrusion detection technology, and a substantial number of new Border Patrol agents will permit INS to enforce the rule of law and enhance border management over larger portions of the border.

The 2002 Budget also provides an additional $7 million to establish intelligence units along the Northern and Southwest borders. The units will collect, analyze, and disseminate information to identify and interdict illegal entrants to the United States; monitor potential terrorist activity and smuggling operations; and track the movement of illicit narcotics, weapons, and other contraband across our borders.

Ensuring Detention and Removal of Illegal Aliens: The Administration is committed to removing those who have entered the country illegally and to detain criminal aliens. The budget funds INS detention and deportation staff and provides resources to remove criminal and illegal aliens swiftly. The 2002 Budget provides $89 million to support an additional 1,607 average daily detention bed spaces for a total level of more than 21,000 bed spaces. INS will continue to target its efforts primarily on removing deportable aliens held in Federal, State, and local facilities to ensure that these criminal aliens are not allowed back on the street. The budget also continues funding to fully implement detention standards to ensure those detained, particularly those who have pending asylum cases, are treated fairly.

Creating an INS Structure for the Future: The INS has suffered from systemic problems the last few years, particularly those related to INS' dual missions of service and enforcement. These systemic problems include: competing priorities; insufficient accountability between field offices and headquarters; overlapping organizational relationships; and, lack of consistent operations and policies. The Administration believes that it is critical to address these problems.

The Administration proposes restructuring and splitting the INS into two agencies with separate chains of command and accountability, reporting to a single policy leader in the Department of Justice. One agency will be focused exclusively on service and the other will be focused exclusively on law enforcement. The Administration will work with Congress in a bipartisan manner to enact legislation that fundamentally improves the way the Nation's immigration system is administered.

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