The INS: Coming up short on service

Category: Faith & Spirituality Views: 603

There is a chasm between the rhetoric of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the realities of its activities in the field. The "S" of service is still missing despite progresses made over the past couple of years.

The rhetoric is impressive. The INS vision statement, prominently displayed in the Los Angeles office, reads: "We will administer the United States Immigration and Naturalization Act with quality and dignity for all by providing the best service and enforcement while providing the mutual respect for all employees, the public and others with whom we interact." A wall poster in the same office reads, "You deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect."

But the realities on the ground show the vacuity of these principles. When I filed my family's applications for permanent residency several years ago, I received a note telling me not to contact the INS within one year. About 15 months later, I received a notice for re-filing the applications presumably because the medical reports provided were too old to be deemed valid. Thereafter, the INS lost our file a couple of times and had my family do the same finger printing three times at our expense. Even after filing the address change request three times, I found that the officials were still using our 'aboriginal' address.

To get any information or check the status of long-pending applications, immigrants must arrive at the Los Angeles office early in the morning. Even after spending several hours in the queue, more than a thousand people must return each day without getting a chance to speak with an official. The officials do not tell these people to leave early, nor do they use a system allowing them to come on an appointed day.

In March1998, having returned home four times in this fashion, I arrived at 3:00 a.m. in front of the INS office and became the 79th person in the queue. The first person in the queue stood there at 10:50 p.m. before midnight. At around 7:30 a.m., when we all arrived inside the office, an official announced that they would talk to the first 50 persons only, 50 less than their usual targets. I had to go through the ordeal for another day.

Rhetorically, INS regards the immigrants as customers and claims to have a "commitment to improved, customer-friendly service." Yet, its treatment of immigrants does not reflect the kind of "friendly service" that business customers receive. The words I heard from several immigrants tell it all:

"I applied for her adjustment of status in July 1991 and got an interview in July 1997. Today, I came because I couldn't get to talk to a person on the phone."

"If a salesperson doesn't treat me well, I don't go there any more. But here, I have no choice."

"My interview was a kind of court appearance. They treated us like criminals."

"You have to be absolutely patient. They don't even smile."

"They look professionally grim."

"They don't know how to smile." "They don't get paid for that [smile]." "It's like you are scared from them."

Yes, over the past couple of years, the INS has taken some concrete initiatives including electronic finger printing for speedy settlement of cases. It has reported having completed more than 1.2 million applications during FY 1999, a 105% increase from FY 1998. Since 1993, the INS has increased its budget by 166% from $1.5 billion to $4 billion and its full-time staff by 65% from 17,150 to 28,400.

Yet, the INS staff increase does not match the increase in its volume of work. From 1993 to 1999, 6.4 million immigrants applied for citizenship, more than the total number of the 37 previous years combined. If you call to file a complaint, you will hear a voice saying that, because of staff shortage, not all complaints will receive a hearing.

Indeed, there remains little change in the quality of service. As I saw this past Friday in Los Angeles again, much of the INS business is running as usual in the old-fashioned way. I saw about a thousand "customers" return in the afternoon without getting a chance to talk to an official.

So, an immigrant said it right: "To make INS better, they must hire more people and train employees to be nice." To do so, INS must also stop wasting energies in framing immigrants with the so-called "secret evidence" that has proved indefensible in the case of Nasser Ahmed. That is not INS's business at all.

Mohammad A. Auwal is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and is a regular columnist for

  Category: Faith & Spirituality
Views: 603
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