• Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security
  • December 30, 2003 | Author: Dana F. Underwood
  • Law Firm: Trenam, Kemker, Scharf, Barkin, Frye, O'Neill & Mullis, Professional Association - Tampa Office
  • As of March 1, 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ceased to exist, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was put in charge of our immigration functions. Three separate bureaus were created within the DHS to handle immigration enforcement and investigation, as well as all immigration services and benefits. The two enforcement bureaus are the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP). Immigration services and benefits are the responsibility of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).

    The BICE is in charge of interior enforcement and investigation. It is made up of about 14,000 employees from the former INS, U.S. Customs Service, and the Federal Protective Service. President Bush nominated former INS Acting Commissioner Michael Garcia to head the BICE, which is comprised of the following primary areas:

    1) Immigration and Customs Investigations -- investigating violations of immigration laws, terrorists financing, export enforcement, money laundering, smuggling, fraud, intellectual property violations and cybercrimes;

    2) Customs Air and Marine Interdiction -- protection against smuggling of narcotics, other contraband and terrorist activity;

    3) Federal Protective Service protection of the 8,800 General Services Administration-controlled facilities nationwide;

    4) Detention and Removal ensuring the departure from the United States of all removable aliens through the nation's immigration laws; and

    5) Immigration and Customs Intelligence collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence to immigration and customs personnel.

    The other immigration enforcement arm is the BCBP. More than 30,000 employees, including inspectors from the former INS, U.S. Customs, the Agricultural Quarantine Inspections, and the Border Patrol work in the BCBP. This agency focuses its operations on the movement of people and goods across the borders, ensuring consistent inspection procedures in border enforcement. Former U.S. Customs Commissioner, Robert Bonner, serves as the Commissioner of the BCBP.

    As opposed to being an enforcement or investigative agency, the BCIS was established to provide immigration benefits and services to qualifying foreign nationals. The services provided by the BCIS include: the adjudication of family and employment-based petitions for permanent residency ("green cards"); issuance of travel and employment authorization documents, including intra-company transferees (L-1), specialized knowledge employees (H-1B), treaty trader/investors (E-1/E-2), visitors (B-1/B-2), students (F-1), fiancé (K-1); asylum and refugee processing; naturalization and citizenship; and the implementation of special status programs such as temporary protected status and humanitarian parole. The BCIS is comprised of approximately 15,000 employees and contractors headed by Eduardo Aguirre, Jr., former Vice Chairman and Chief Operating Officer of the Export/Import Bank of the United States.

    The BCIS is the immigration bureau with which most foreign nationals will have contact, as it is the agency which provides authorization for working and residing in the United States. While the BCIS has only been in existence for a few weeks, the transition from INS to BCIS has been fairly uneventful. All BCIS local offices are in the former INS locations, and contact information remains the same. Immigration application forms are unchanged at this time and aliens may continue to check the status of their cases online. Official documents previously issued by the former INS are still valid and will continue to be accepted by BCIS and other agencies.