U.S. Immigration Inspectors: Ambassadors and Law Enforcers

By Soper, Gene M. | The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2003 | Go to article overview

U.S. Immigration Inspectors: Ambassadors and Law Enforcers


Soper, Gene M., The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin


The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, brought the importance of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the forefront of the American public's attention. Prior to that date, a great portion of the general population had little knowledge of the brave men and women who protect U.S. borders.

Charged to, "in a timely and consistent manner, determine the admissibility of persons seeking entry; deny entry to inadmissible aliens; enforce criminal provisions against those who conspire to promote illegal entry and stay; and deter future illegal entry and stay in the United States," (1) INS inspectors not only enforce the nation's laws but also serve as the first Americans many foreigners encounter. They must determine the admissibility of all persons at air, sea, and land ports of entry. They intercept human and narcotic smugglers and can physically search, without warrant, applicants and their personal belongings. INS inspectors must ensure that foreign nationals enter the United States with proper documentation, verifying whether holders have authentic and current passports and visas. They interpret laws and clarify decisions to persons seeking entry into the country. They arrest, detain, parole, or deport persons according to laws, instructions, or regulations. To accomplish these tasks, INS inspect ors complete a rigorous 17-week training course that covers a variety of topics, such as legal procedures (e.g., constitutional law, conspiracy law, and U.S. Customs and U.S. Department of Agriculture laws), behavioral sciences, physical and firearm training, and nonlethal control techniques.

Organizational Overview

The INS has many types of offices located in the United States and abroad. (2) It has 33 district offices in the United States and 3 overseas. District offices, each headed by a district director, enforce immigration laws and provide certain immigration services and benefits to residents of their specific geographic jurisdiction. TNS staff members collect applications, conduct interviews, and answer questions at these offices. Some district offices have suboffices and satellite offices determined, in part, by the needs of INS customers. In addition to these offices, the INS also divides the United States into Border Patrol sectors responsible for enforcing immigration laws.

Three regional offices oversee the work of the district offices and sectors. Three administrative centers, collocated with the regional offices, implement administrative policy and deliver direct service to their geographic areas. The INS established four service centers to handle mail, conduct data entry of information, and process applications. It also has eight asylum offices to help those individuals seeking shelter in the United States. To facilitate the application process, the INS uses application support centers at various locations.

All of these offices exist to support over 300 ports of entry in the United States, including international airports, land border ports, and seaports. As an example, the Paso del Norte port of entry in El Paso, Texas, will illustrate how the INS protects America's borders on a daily basis.

The Inspector's Role

Nearly 250 INS inspectors are in the El Paso, Texas, district. During fiscal year 2000, these inspectors, along with U.S. Customs personnel, conducted over 68 million inspections in 9 ports of entry. (3) During the busiest days (Saturdays and holidays), more than 25,000 pedestrians applied for admission into the United States from Mexico at the Paso del Norte port of entry, part of the total for the year of nearly 8 million pedestrians for the entire district. The majority of these pedestrians entered the United States to shop in stores in El Paso, but others came with different agendas.

On the Southwest land border, INS inspectors encounter several different types of applicants throughout their normal tour of duty.

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