Washington, DC - [Raul Yzaguirre, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), the largest national constituency-based Hispanic civil rights organization in the United States, issued the following statement regarding the legislation to move the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS):]
One of the essential functions of government is to preserve the nation's security and protect its people from harm. This became even more urgent for the United States following the horrific attacks of September 11, and our elected leaders have rightly focused on how to prevent such attacks in the future. This process requires both a frank assessment of our nation's security and other law enforcement capabilities as well as a commitment to ensuring that all the essential players involved in this effort are functioning effectively and efficiently.
And of all of the agencies now in the Department of Homeland Security, NCLR is most familiar with the workings of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). For years we have known that the INS has had severe problems and has been in need of restructuring. We are deeply concerned, therefore, that the new Department of Homeland Security has incorporated, and must now oversee, an INS that has neither been restructured nor reformed. We believe that the failure of Congress to include significant changes in the way INS conducts its business will not only further exacerbate the fundamental problems of a deeply flawed agency but also compromise our nationís security at a time we can least afford it.
This did not have to happen. Republicans and Democrats had agreed to bipartisan INS restructuring legislation. However, in moving quickly to pass the Homeland Security legislation, our nationís leaders have split up a broken agency and buried it within a brand new one while ignoring these already agreed upon restructuring principles. With Homeland Security making and implementing immigration policy, enforcement is likely to take precedent and immigration services and naturalization will be left out in the cold. While we are certain that it will have detrimental effects on the treatment of Latinos and all immigrants, it is hard to imagine how this will make us safer.
We are also extremely troubled that having our immigration functions within the DHS marks a monumental change in how our nation views immigrants, and jeopardizes our country's rich immigration tradition, and threatens to make the already poor treatment of immigrants by the federal bureaucracy even worse. Moving INS into the DHS sends the signal that all immigrants will be seen through an anti-terrorism lens first, and immigration and naturalization services for long-time legal residents are likely to suffer as a result.
Furthermore, given the current climate and the attacks on civil rights that we have seen over the past year, NCLR is very concerned that the minimal civil liberties provisions included in the DHS legislation will not come close to providing the necessary protections.
We are also disappointed at how little attention was paid to immigration and civil rights issues during the limited debate. After numerous attempts to work with the Administration and Congress to shape a bill that would protect immigration and civil rights while increasing national security, the bill does not address any of our concerns. We had hoped that our elected representatives would place greater priority on making sure they got it right rather than on electoral or other concerns.
Over the coming months and years, NCLR will be watching DHS. Immigration services must not be allowed to wither away under the weight of the new DHS. It is critical that immigration services receive adequate personnel and funding to meet the needs of the millions of newcomers requiring services. Naturalization, in particular, must be sufficiently funded so as to decrease existing backlogs and provide citizenship services to the tens of thousands of long-term legal residents who will file naturalization applications over the coming years. We note that President Bush made a campaign promise to reduce naturalization backlogs to six months or less. An indicator of the effectiveness of this new agency will be its ability to fulfill this commitment.
NCLR will be closely monitoring immigration policy and services within DHS. We will be able to measure the impact that the transition has on immigration services in terms of what happens to family immigration and citizenship services. If backlogs increase and service provision worsens, we intend to hold the Administration and Congress accountable. Furthermore, if civil rights violations increase, and if immigration enforcement continues to marginalize large segments of the population, we will not hesitate to call the Administration and Congress to task.
Like all Americans the Latino community wants the U.S. to be safe from terrorism and other threats. However, preserving our rich immigrant heritage and living up to our responsibilities to our nationís newcomers must remain a priority.
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