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Immigration and Naturalization Service



Eleven days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created to protect the country against terrorism and respond to future attacks. This instigated what would be a complete overhaul of the current immigration system and dissolution of its controlling body: the United States Immigration & Naturalization Services.


As its name suggests, the INS formerly controlled all immigration and naturalization services. The organization was created in 1933 by a merger of the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization. As the country was wracked by the Great Depression, immigration slowed tremendously and INS was occupied with deportations.


In 1940, much like 2001, the threat of WWII changed immigration. INS grew and obtained new responsibilities to include matters of national security and border patrol along with immigration processes. Even after the war, immigration remained low as the 1920's national origins system was still in place. This system limited immigration by assigning each nationality a quota based on its representation in census figures.


The Immigration and Nationality Act was passed in 1952, establishing an immigration policy that largely holds today. Visas were distributed into four categories: half going to highly educated foreign nationals or those who have exceptional ability in a particular field, and the other half distributed in the three preference-based categories for family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The national origins formula remained until 1965 when it was finally abolished with the Hart-Cellar Act.


Through the second half of the 20th century, immigration shifted from Europe to Asia and Central and South America. While the national origins formula no longer existed, it was replaced by hemispheric and per-country numerical restrictions which continued to limit immigration and create backlogs. In the 1970's, the hemispheric caps were replaced by one world-wide limit of 290,000. However, the backlogs continue to date. Today, processing times for certain nationals can be as long as twenty years.


The 1980's saw significant changes to immigration policy. The 1980 Refugee Act placed refugees in a preference category, providing easier access to resettlement and even a path to permanent residency. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan pushed through the Immigration Reform and Control Act, a blanket amnesty program for undocumented persons living in the U.S. since January 1, 1982. The law forgave these persons of unlawful presence and issued them green cards. No other amnesty program has passed.


As illegal immigration continued to be a problem, President Bill Clinton heightened border security in 1996 with the Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act. Criticized for being too harsh, this bill created such provisions as increased border patrol, barred admission to persons persecuted for unlawful presence, and new deportation laws.


The next change to U.S. immigration policy came with the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The Department of Homeland Security was created almost immediately after the attacks and signed into law in 2002 and with this the transfer of immigration and naturalization services was put into three entities: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). INS was dissolved.


USCIS is responsible for all in-country immigration. This includes naturalization, extending visas and granting amnesty. As of August 2012, they are also responsible for Deferred Action, a policy which grants temporary status to DREAMers.


ICE acts to enforce immigration policy by handling deportation cases, prosecuting employers who hire undocumented workers and investigating cases of illegal immigration.


CBP secures U.S. borders with border patrol, fencing and at ports of entry. Their priority mission is to keep terrorists and their weapons out of the country. They also regulate and facilitate international trade and customs.


The U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs issues nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to foreign nationals.

Today, immigration reform proponents wait with bated breath as a comprehensive immigration reform bill moves its way through Congress. If passed, the bill will create path to citizenship for DREAMers of any age, a green card for undocumented agricultural workers, thousands of new visas and additional border security.

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