Immigration Solution?

Few government agencies take more flak than the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Recently, for example, the INS has been blasted for allowing into the country an asylum seeker now under arrest for conspiring to launch a bombing campaign from a Brooklyn apartment.

The agency may soon take its biggest hit ever - from the US Commission on Immigration Reform. The commission is reported to be on the verge of recommending that the INS be dismantled and its functions farmed out to other branches of the federal government.

At first glance, this idea has some appeal. The State Department, the Labor Department, the Justice Department all have offices that already deal with immigration matters. And these departments may have better management track records than the much-maligned INS.

But a good argument can be made for keeping most of the important business of assessing applicants for citizenship and legal residence under one roof. The various tasks involved all interrelate. Some argue that the same agency shouldn't be involved in providing both services (such as issuing VISAs and granting citizenship) and enforcement (patrolling the borders, apprehending illegal aliens). But there are plenty of other examples in government of two similar functions under one management.

More important, perhaps, INS has shown that it can respond to demands for reform. Even some longtime critics acknowledge progress in such key areas as Border Patrol effectiveness, work site checks on immigrants' legal status, and, yes, the politically sensitive asylum process (now causing criticism in the Brooklyn bomb case).

Oversight of the agency has never been stronger by Congress. This fall, a number of hearings on immigration will commence, and new legislation may surface - including some that embodies commission recommendations (not officially due out until Sept. 30).

Reform may reasonably lead to greater clarification of INS responsibilities, and some handing off of duties that have at times threatened to swamp the agency. However it's arrived at bureaucratically, better management of the country's growing immigration work load is a necessity.

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