An Analysis of the “Bureau of Immigration Services” section of the INS Restructuring Proposalon
The Centrality of American Citizenship to the core mission of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is missing from the Restructuring Proposal submitted to Congress by the Justice Department and INS. Incredibly there is no mention of citizenship in the Restructuring Proposal.
This analysis pertains only to the part of the Justice Department’s INS Restructuring Proposal that deals with the “Bureau of Immigration Services.” It does not examine the parts of the plan that describe the “Bureau of Immigration Enforcement.”
The INS Restructuring Proposal submitted by the Justice Department appears to have been developed mainly within the INS bureaucracy. We should assume that this plan is a “work in progress” and that many in the Administration would welcome the chance to strengthen INS restructuring. For example, the draft plan refers incessantly to “services,” “customers,” and “benefits,” but, never discusses “citizenship,” and “civic responsibilities.” In a forty page document there are 81 references to “services;” 24 references to “customers;” and only 4 references to “citizens;” all of which are placed within the context of “case work” and “services.” There are no references to “citizenship;” the word never appears in the document. There is no discussion of the importance of citizenship naturalization and civic obligations for American democracy.
Thus, the clear and recognizable voice of the Bush Administration¾the voice of civic values, of American citizenship, and of civic responsibility¾is absent from this draft. This is particularly disappointing since the document was reworked after September 11. The proposal is deaf to the resurgence of American patriotism and the reaffirmation of American citizenship that has occurred across our nation. Moreover, the Restructuring Proposal fails to address the major responsibilities of the INS consistent with its statutory authority under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Public Law No. 82-414, specifically the crucial sections dealing with citizenship naturalization, training, and obligations. In short, there is a lot of work to be done to strengthen INS restructuring.
(1) The Dual Mission of the INS is not, and has not been, simply focused on “services” and “enforcement,” but, instead, has emphasized (in the Immigration and Nationality Act) both “citizenship” and “enforcement.”
The Restructuring Proposal continually discusses the “dual mission” of the INS as one of “service” and “enforcement.” For example, page 5 refers to the INS “fulfilling its dual missions of service and enforcement” and page 6 discusses the “competing requirements” of the INS as “effective customer service and effective enforcement.” However, an examination of the Immigration and Nationality Act Public Law No. 82-414, as amended, reveals different missions and priorities.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) explicitly emphasizes the clear mission of facilitating civic integration, providing for citizenship training, and ensuring applicants’ knowledge of their civic obligations. For example, Title III/ Chapter 2 Section 312 (8 U.S.C. 1423) states that no person shall be naturalized as a citizen of the United States “who can not demonstrate: (1) an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language…(2) a knowledge and understanding of the history, and of the principles and form of government of the United States.” What is the purpose of this section of the law and (in this regard) what is the mission of the INS? Clearly, it is to promote the civic integration or assimilation of new citizens into the mainstream of American democracy. Thus, naturalized citizens are required by law to understand basic English and learn about our history and government in order that they can became full and equal American citizens.
The law (8 U.S.C. 1443) designates that the Attorney-General(i.e., the Justice Department) is authorized to prescribe an “examination of applicants for naturalization as to their admissibility to citizenship.” This examination “shall be limited to inquiry concerning the applicant’s residence, physical presence in the United States, good moral character, understanding of and attachment to the fundamental principles of the Constitution of the United States, ability to read, write and speak English, and other qualifications as required by law, and shall be uniform throughout the United States.” It is significant that the law requires an attachment to the fundamental principles of the Constitution of the United States, not simply a neutral “understanding” of those principles.
Certainly, it is the mission of the INS to foster this “attachment” or moral commitment to our fundamental principles. Indeed, further in same section of the law under “Instruction in citizenship,” the Justice Department is “authorized to promote instruction and training in citizenship responsibilities of applicants for naturalization including the sending of names of candidates for naturalization to the public schools, preparing and distributing monthly an immigration and naturalization bulletin and securing the aid of and cooperating with official State and national organizations, including those concerned with vocational education.”
Moreover, Title III/ Chapter 2 Section 337 (8 U.S.C. 1448) the “Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance” requires that “a person who has applied for naturalization shall, in order to be and before being admitted to citizenship, take in a public ceremony… an oath.” The statutory language of this officially named “Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance” is rich with the language of “responsibilities” rather than “rights” and of “obligations” rather than “benefits.” Thus, according to the law, the applicant for citizenship (among other civic obligations) promises to: “absolutely and entirely renounce” all “allegiance and fidelity” to any foreign…state or sovereignty;” to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”; and to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.”
Furthermore, Section 1448, subsection (d) gives the Justice Department the authority “to prescribe rules and procedures to ensure that the ceremonies conducted…for the administration of oaths of allegiance…are public, conducted frequently and at regular intervals, and are in keeping with the dignity of the occasion.”
All of the sections of the Immigration and Nationality Act mentioned are at the core mission of the INS. These include:
• the civic integration of immigrants;
• citizenship training for our newest citizens; and
• the significance for newcomers of civic obligations.
Yet, the Restructuring Proposal and the official “Fact Sheet” put out by the INS are almost totally devoid of such language. The INS is described as having only “two vital missions—services and enforcement.” The mission of the “Bureau of Immigration Services” is described as being “responsible for all immigration benefit services.” Among the “services” listed are “processing applications for naturalization,” “adjustment of status,” and “Green Card renewal.” There is no hint in the INS Fact Sheet or (more importantly) in the Restructuring Proposal itself of the vital civic mission of the INS. Incredibly, the word “citizenship” never appears in either the INS Fact Sheet nor the forty page Restructuring Proposal. Instead we are, more or less, told that “naturalization” is about “service” and “processing applications.”
(2) The relationship for the core mission of the INS among the fundamental principles and concepts of citizenship, citizens, services, customers, benefits, obligations, rights and responsibilities must be properly understood.
First let us be very clear. Too often, in the past, some in the INS bureaucracy have treated immigrants discourteously, indifferently, and with a lack of respect. The proposal rightly states that INS personnel should be “consistent, courteous, accurate, and timely” (page 6) in dealing with people (both non-citizens and citizens) who have business with the INS. The culture of the INS must be a culture in which employees are courteous, equitable, respectful, humane, and fair. The INS leadership should insist that agency personnel treat applicants for both the different social services and for citizenship in a dignified, equitable, and respectful manner.
Unfortunately, in their eagerness to make this valid point about the importance of respect and courtesy, the drafters of this document have almost totally obscured the crucial civic mission of the INS. The business metaphor (used throughout the draft) that non-citizens applying for American citizenship are essentially “customers” seeking a “service” is entirely inappropriate for the dignity and seriousness of our naturalization process. Moreover, the use of this metaphor is disrespectful of the very concept of American citizenship itself. The tone of this document sounds as if someone is applying for a driver’s license or a business permit.
The “customer” metaphor is pervasive. The term “customer” is used six times more often than the term “citizen.” As noted, there are 24 references to “customers” and only 4 to “citizens.” One of the major “Key Elements of Restructuring” is described as a new emphasis that “Focuses Customer Service” by putting “the customer first when developing policy and procedures.” (page 6) This statement contradicts the fundamental principles of American democracy. “When developing policy,” federal agencies ought to put citizens, not non-citizens, “first.” If one insists on using the term “customers,” the major “customers” for a federal agency such as the INS in American democracy are American citizens (i.e. the American people), not non-citizen residents (legal or illegal) or foreign visitors.
What is needed is a sea-change in the culture of the INS. The federal employees (both career and political) who work at that agency should see themselves as “serving” the American citizenry as a whole, not as customer service representatives. This overarching principle should not be lost sight of in the effort to reduce the naturalization backlog. Citizenship standards should not be lowered in any worthwhile initiative to improve efficiency.
Treating immigrants, who hope to become American citizens, with real respect means seeing them as future fellow citizens (i.e. as “candidates for citizenship”), not as “customers” waiting for the delivery of a “service” or “product” called “American citizenship.” Every American knows¾or should know¾that being a “candidate” for citizenship—for full and equal membership—in our democratic republic is a status of infinitely greater significance and dignity than being a “customer” or, to use some of the other terms in this proposal, a “client” or a “stakeholder.”
(3) How Can Restructuring be strengthened?
Restructuring can be strengthened, first, by emphasizing the core civic mission of the INS consistent with the Immigration and Nationality Act. Plans should be outlined to implement civic integration, citizenship training, and civic obligations as outlined in Public Law No. 82-414. This imperative is highlighted in sections of the law that discuss the responsibilities and obligations of American citizenship including: learning English; understanding basic American history and the form of government and fundamental principles of the United States, as well as gaining attachment to the fundamental principles of the Constitution; and taking of a solemn oath pledging alliance to the Constitution of the United States and renouncing all previous political allegiances.
Indeed, the Oath of Renunciation and Allegiance is central to the citizenship naturalization process. In the Oath, new citizens transfer full political allegiance ((but obviously not all ties and affection) from their birth nations to the United Sates of America. It is precisely because we are not a nation formed by race, ethnicity, or religion, but by loyalty to our constitutional democracy, that the Oath of Allegiance is central to who we are as a people. It makes sense that new citizens should clearly understand the serious moral commitment they make in renouncing all prior political allegiances and swearing loyalty to the American constitutional regime. Therefore, questions on the significance of the Oath of Allegiance should be incorporated into the history and government naturalization test that prospective citizens take.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been born in this country should welcome immigrants into the status of “candidates for citizenship” by being serious about American citizenship ourselves. This is truly the first step in respecting immigrants. Instead of an Office of “Customer” Relations there should be an Office of Citizenship Training. Instead of the Bureau of Immigration Services, this new bureau should be called the Bureau of Citizenship Assimilation or the Bureau of Americanization. Today, just as in the days of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, federal agencies that deal with citizenship should promote political “Americanization” or what in the 21st century could be called the patriotic assimilation of immigrants into the mainstream of American constitutional democracy.
As they go through the naturalization process, the candidates for citizenship, our future fellow citizens, should “feel in their bones” that they are making a serious moral commitment in joining American liberal democracy; they should not feel as if they are picking up some “papers” or “documents” from the customer service bureau of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
References to “Services” . . . . . . . . 81
References to “Customers” . . . . . . . 24
References to “Citizens” . . . . . . . . . 4
References to “Citizenship” . . . . . . 0
Note: The four references to citizens are within the context “case work” and “services;” they are not connected with civic responsibilities or civic obligations in any way.