Straddling the Border: Immigration Policy and the INS

Straddling the Border: Immigration Policy and the INS

Straddling the Border: Immigration Policy and the INS

Straddling the Border: Immigration Policy and the INS

Synopsis

With the dual and often conflicting responsibilities of deterring illegal immigration and providing services to legal immigrants, the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is a bureaucracy beset with contradictions. Critics fault the agency for failing to stop the entry of undocumented workers from Mexico. Agency staff complain that harsh enforcement policies discourage legal immigrants from seeking INS aid, while ever-changing policy mandates from Congress and a lack of funding hinder both enforcement and service activities. between national-level policymaking and local-level policy implementation prevents the INS from effectively fulfilling either its enforcement or its service mission. She begins with a history and analysis of the making of immigration policy which reveals that federal and state lawmakers respond more to the concerns, fears, and prejudices of the public than to the realities of immigration or the needs of the INS. She then illustrates the effects of shifting and conflicting mandates through case studies of INS implementation of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, Proposition 187, and the 1996 Welfare Reform and Responsibility Act and their impact on Mexican immigrants. Magana concludes with fact-based recommendations to improve the agency's performance.

Excerpt

In 1999 I attended a meeting with Doris Meissner, federal commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the mounting immigration crisis in Arizona. The number of immigrant deaths in the desert had quadrupled since 1993. An increase in the number of Border Patrol agents in Texas and California had resulted in undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the United States through the less guarded Nogales-Arizona region, where temperatures can reach a staggering 120 degrees. Unfortunately, fewer Border Patrol agents results in less assistance for immigrants unprepared for the brutal Arizona climate.

Before this meeting, I talked to two high-ranking INS officials. I told them that I was a political scientist conducting research on undocumented Mexican immigration. They informed me that there are two issues that need examination in immigration research. First, the public generally does not understand what the agency does. One INS representative remarked, “People only see Border Patrol agents. What we really do is a lot of paperwork. Someone needs to do research on the bureaucrats, but I guess that is not sexy enough.” Although substantial resources and manpower are directed to enforcement policies, such as patrolling the border, it is the bureaucrats who process and have significant influence on Mexican immigrants. Second, many of the policies assigned to the agency in the past two decades are not based on realistic approaches to curbing immigration. Rather, immigration policies are motivated by the political and popular sentiments of the moment.

After this discussion, I reviewed the research on the agency. My investigation confirmed what the INS officials had told me. Indeed, I found that there are few studies on the bureaucrats of the agency or on the effect that immigration policies have on the INS. The purpose of this book is to bridge this gap. I show how major immigration policies in the past twenty years . . .

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