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Immigration Naturalization Service - Immigration Naturalization Service: The Old Colossus

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More properly, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), was established in 1933 during the Great Depression as the merging of the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. With the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), it has been revamped and restructured to separate entities, with customs, border enforcement and immigration all under new department headings. The INS was officially defunct in March, 2003.

The tasks of the old INS Border Patrol, entry and port control now fall under the Departments of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Department of Justice. Visas, immigration and naturalization are now controlled by the Department of State as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service( USCIS).

Most people are referring to the USCIS when speaking of the INS today, as immigration and naturalization are the operative words in the old name. If you need a visa, or if you want to immigrate, or become a US citizen, the USCIS is the controlling authority. This makes sense in that in order to become a naturalized citizen, you need to immigrate; and, to immigrate, you must have a valid visa. There are very few exceptions, the primary one being a child of a US citizen being born outside the US; e.g., a child born to a couple serving in the US military overseas.

A foreigner’s – also seen as “alien”, although this word has taken on some negative connotations lately – first contact with the US for purposes of immigration will be the USCIS, when they apply for a visa. The type of visa necessary is dependent on the purpose of the visitor’s application. A migrant worker who comes to the US periodically to perform primarily agricultural services has a different visa process than an applicant who is being hired by a corporation to provide a continuous and on-going service, usually of a technical nature. A foreign-born wife or fiancé each have different visa procedures and documents to file in order to enter the country and stay for more than a brief period. There are no longer any permanent visas, visas are considered short-term documents until the immigration status is clarified and modified, usually indicated by the “Green Card”. To further complicate the process, Green Cards are not permanent documents and must be renewed on a periodic basis or until naturalization and US citizenship is granted.

Marriage and child adoption are two significantly large classifications of immigrants. They are a couple of the very few types of immigration that have no set limitation on the number of applications allowed to be approved annually. Some see the fiancé visa (K1) as a fast track to permanent legal presence in the US. This is not necessarily the case. The process of marrying a foreigner who intends to reside in the US takes years to complete. There are a number of cases of Canadian fiancé visa and green card resident status that routinely take two years or longer from the initial application to receipt of the green card. Foreigners from other countries with more marginal ties to the US can take 5 years or more for processing with no guarantee of eventual approval.

Many non-immigrant temporary visas are also under the purview of the USCIS, even though immigration is not intended. For example, au pairs, certain medical professionals, professional and amateur athletes, and seasonal or migrant workers, via the US Department of Labor. Presently, there are over 30 different non-immigrant temporary visa types, each requiring its own separate application process.

The former Immigration and Naturalization Service lasted 70 years as a single department, which in US government terms is a very long time. Since the events of 9/11 and with massive influx of undocumented foreigners entering the country, enforcement of immigration laws and protecting the border placed a huge burden on a single agency whose intent was to regulate the lawful immigration process. The Customs and Border Protection is now under the umbrella of the Department of Justice instead of the Department of State or Department of Labor, neither of which specialize in law enforcement.

The INS served the country long and well. From its roots at Ellis Island, where many immigrants inspired by the words from the Emma Lazarus poem, The New Colossus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” sought a new life, to what it has evolved to today. However, freedom doesn’t come free. Soaring costs for naturalization and the perception of amnesty resulted in a 62% decrease in the number of people attaining US citizenship last year from the year prior. Whether the fracturing of the INS was a wise idea or not, remains undetermined. Only time will tell.

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