An Immigration Disservice

Taking Note

THE UNITED STATES' worst bureaucracy, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is at it again. Devoid of compassion and ignorant of the word mercy, this mean-spirited agency is as close as America gets to the Gestapo; it terrorizes random individuals whose "crimes" are moot and who certainly have never endangered the safety of anyone.

While the United States government professes to value justice and to adhere to due process in all its actions, the INS exercises an arbitrary police power out of place in a free society. Granted, it is a necessary agency. But in protecting our borders, it oversteps its powers and exercises too much unchecked and unregulated authority.

Hardly accountable to anyone, the INS inteprets laws as it wishes--often contrary to the intent of Congress--and introduces unnecessary fear into the lives of basically innocent individuals. It, and it alone, decides who can stay in this country and who must go.

LAST WEEK, President Reagan signed a comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform bill which granted amnesty to illegal immigrants who have lived in this country since 1982. The bill promises to end decades of exploitation of illegal immigrants by unscrupulous employers who have capitalized on the aliens' fears of deportation. The new law has been hailed as a triumph by those on almost all sides of the issue.

Now, enter the INS. It took a look at the new law and found a loophole. And it intends to make something of it. While granting illegal immigrants amnesty, the immigration bill failed to confer permanent legal status on those who have been living in the country as temporary legal residents. Legally allowed in the U.S. for a limited period under what is known as the H-1 program, these people are technically subject to deportation as soon as their visas expire. Their fates consequently rest in the hands of the INS, which has refused to show mercy and has begun to send out deportation notices.


The irony is overwhelming. Those who bothered to fill out the forms and go through the proper channels face deportation and must wait years before they can legally immigrate, while those who ignored the proper channels and stayed in the U.S. illegally will soon possess green cards. However, the irony is entirely a manufactured one, created and played up by the INS.

CONSIDERING THAT THE President just signed a bill that contains generous amnesty provisions, it seems entirely innappropriate to crack down on H-1 immigrants. It is safe to assume that Congress did not intend to create a strange and unfair dichotomy between illegal and legal aliens and merely overlooked this provision. Such mistakes do happen.

Before cracking down, the INS could have at least waited for Congress to clarify the bill during its next session. Allowing temporary legal residents to remain in the country until Congress reconsiders their status hurts no one--no one, that is, except nativists. In enforcing what it sees as the letter of the law, the INS contemptuously flouts its spirit and demonstrates that it has an ax to grind.

By reading the new immigration act with narrow-minded zeal, the INS has intentionally overstepped its duty to enforce the law. It is attempting to take advantage of Congress' oversight in order to create, implement and enforce its own immigration policy.

Whether it intends to or not, the INS is doing a phenomenal job of creating a public backlash against the newly legalized aliens. By playing up the dichotomy between their status and the status of H-1 aliens when there is no need to do so, the INS encourages people to complain about the government aiding those who snuck across the border in violation of the law.

Amnesty is, however, long off the agenda. By wisely recognizing that those who have been the country since 1982 have a stake in the country and that only legalization can prevent employers from exploiting immigrant labor, Congressional compromise ended debate on the amnesty issue. Is the INS unsatisfied, or does it wish to exploit nativist fears in order to expand its powers? Whatever its intent, the Immigration and Naturalization Service could do us all a service by easing off and not going out of its way to create confusion and to instill fear into the lives of countless individuals.

The INS threatens Americanism far more than any number of immigrants--legal or illegal--possibly could. By interpreting laws to suit its own interest and by acting in an arbitrary manner, the INS challenges the ideals of equal justice and due process.

During its next session, Congress must clarify its immigration law and give legal status to all who have resided in the United States since 1982. And in the process, Congress ought to investigate the INS. Unless subject to intense critical scrutiny, there's no telling what it could do next.