INS (United States Immigration and Naturalization Service)

INS (United States Immigration and Naturalization Service)


The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was a subsidiary of the Department of Justice. Immigration services are now part of the new Department of Homeland Security. The agency was charged with enforcing laws regulating the immigration of foreign-born individuals, the admission of refugees into the United States, and the naturalization of qualified foreigners wishing to become U.S. citizens. The INS granted tourist, student, and extended stay visas for foreign citizens wishing to visit the United States. Now restructured into the Department of Homeland Security, immigration services are essential in the enforcement of antiterrorism laws and the promotion of national security.

The first federal immigration agency in the United States was established in 1864. At that time, the office was directed to encourage immigration to the United States. Over time, the office evolved as immigration policy changed. By 1890, the government abandoned the "open door policy" and adopted laws restricting the flow of immigrants into the country. The first laws prohibited the entry of people convicted of serious crimes, suffering from contagious diseases, polygamists, and severely mentally ill persons. Later legislation barred immigrants from certain nations and established quotas for immigrants from various regions or countries. As social and political policy changed, so too did the federal immigration agency.

The modern Immigration and Naturalization Service was established in 1933 by Executive Order 6166. The order combined existing separate agencies of immigration and naturalization services. The INS was then part of the Department of Labor. In 1940, the organization was restructured under the President's Reorganization Plan Number V. With the advent of World War II, immigration shifted from being an economic to a security issue. Accordingly, the INS was moved under control of the Department of Justice. The move gave INS more power to adjudicate cases in violation of immigration laws. Furthermore, the INS managed the U.S. border patrol. Border patrol agents apprehended illegal immigrants and regulated the entry of people into the United States from border crossings and other ports-of-entry.

After the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the INS took a lead role in the strengthening of national security and antiterrorism policy. The agency enacted new guidelines for the issuance of visas, making the general criteria for prolonged entry into the U.S. more stringent. Efforts to satisfy 1996 legislation that mandated the creation of tracking systems to monitor entries and exits from land points of entry have been increased. The controversial Coordinating Interagency Partnership Regulating International Students (CIPRIS), a database that tracks student visa holders, remains largely opposed by the university community, but gained the support of the government as a key means of controlling access to sensitive technology and information.

The INS also gained increased powers of detention and questioning of illegal aliens and visa holders suspected of being connected to terrorist organizations. The period of detention without formal charges was augmented from 24 hours to any reasonable length of time necessary to gather information regarding the case. Mobilization Against Terrorism Act (MATA) granted the INS the power to remove, deport, or prosecute foreign nationals connected to terrorist groups, or who harbor persons connected to such organizations. MATA further applied to foreign nationals granted permanent resident status. Permanent residents also could be detained or deported if certified to be connected with a terrorist group.

Despite these changes to INS operations, the agency was radically restructured under the Homeland Security Act. Former INS duties of border security and immigration services were separated and tasked to separate operational departments under the Department of Homeland Security. The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) administers the citizenship program and the granting of visas. Border security is now tasked to the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS). Screening measures of persons wishing to enter the United States have become more rigorous, as has the enforcement of immigration laws, since the CIS and BTS assumed the powers of the former INS.

U.S. immigration policy is currently based on a preference system that favors skilled workers, professionals, and prospective immigrants from underrepresented nations. Accordingly, one of the main tasks of CIS is to manage the visa selection process efficiently. Refugees fleeing from war or political oppression are handled separately, in conjunction with United Nations and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The various operational departments of the Department of Homeland Security are also responsible for the apprehension, adjudication, and deportation of criminal aliens. These can be foreign nationals wanted for crimes in their home countries or who have been convicted of a crime in the United States. In addition, foreign nationals who remain in the United States after their visas expire are considered criminal or illegal aliens, depending on the circumstances of their activities in the U.S. In 2001, immigration services removed nearly 180,000 criminal and illegal aliens, most of whom were apprehended on visa-related violations.



Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. INSPASS. March 1, 2003. < > (April 14, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, PORTPASS. March 11, 2003. < > (April 9, 2003).

United States Department of Homeland Security. Immigration Information, INSPASS. March 4, 2003. < > (April 9, 2003).


United States, Counter-terrorism Policy

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