Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Overload at the INS

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Overload at the INS

Article excerpt

The Immigration and Naturalization Service has one of the biggest jobs in the world: managing the flow of would-be citizens (1.8 million are expected this year) to the United States. Unfortunately, the agency sometimes has not been up to the job.

A spectacular failure occurred last year. A number of factors - overtaxed staff and the press of applicants, plus probable political pressures to naturalize likely Democratic voters - joined to short-circuit INS procedures. Specifically, thousands were rushed through the naturalization process without the required FBI background check to identify those with criminal records.

The problems allowing that to happen have been addressed. INS staff no longer assumes that if the FBI hasn't gotten back to them in 60 days the applicant is clean. Staffers now wait until a fingerprint check is made. This means that people have to wait longer - often more than a year - to gain citizenship. But that's preferable to letting nearly a quarter-million slip through to citizenship without proper checks. The Clinton administration has promised to revoke the naturalizations of 5,000 people who had an undiscovered serious criminal record. But that's more easily promised than done. The legal barriers to withdrawing citizenship are substantial. More important is the work of ensuring it doesn't happen again. To that end, the INS has undertaken a thorough tightening of procedures - prodded along over the months by Justice Department audits and congressional critics. Clerks and adjudicators, responsible for compiling information on immigrants, now have check lists that must be rigorously followed. The agency has developed uniform rules to guide all its offices. And an effort is being made to retrain staff. But worries remain. First, there's the major influx of naturalization applicants - spurred largely by the cutoff of federal benefits to legal immigrants who have not become citizens. …

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