International Rescue Committee Urges Congress To Avoid Shifting INS Service Functions to New Homeland Security Department
The International Rescue Committee said it strongly opposes moving the service functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and visa-related policy to the proposed new Department of Homeland Security.
George Rupp, president of the IRC, said the agency’s opposition is based on the differences in the missions of these departments.
"We do not believe that their differing purposes can be reconciled in a way that preserves the basic rights of those most affected: refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants," Rupp wrote in letters to members of the Congressional committees considering legislation to create the new department. They are the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
Rupp said the IRC "was encouraged by the House Judiciary Committee’s acknowledgment that the missions of the Department of Homeland Security and the Immigration and Naturalization Service could easily be in conflict and that our country’s ability to respond to those joining families and those fleeing persecution would not be served if INS service functions were transferred into the DHS."
As draft bills are considered, Rupp wrote, the House and Senate should keep in mind the following points that relate specifically to INS and the Consular Affairs Office of the State Department.
- A new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will have the primary mission of preventing terrorist attacks, reducing vulnerability of the nation to attack, and assisting in the recovery if such attack occurs. Placing INS within such a department will fundamentally alter long established U.S. policy to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution and to welcome immigrants. Such a move sends a signal that refugees and immigrants are to be feared and viewed with suspicion instead of being embraced for their contributions to our culture, economy, and society.
- Viewing refugee, asylum, and immigration issues through the DHS lens of security and enforcement incorrectly equates humanitarianism and immigration with terrorism. This equation raises serious concerns for the erosion of interest and diminished attention for refugees and immigrants in the future. These same concerns apply to plans to move visa policy to DHS while visa issuance and related process remain in the Department of State.
- We must endeavor to protect our values, traditions, and freedoms. We must strike a balance to keep out those people who intend to do harm to the country and to welcome those who enrich our country. Refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants are the foundation of the nation’s diversity and vibrancy. Our nation’s refugee and immigration services reunite families, enrich our schools and workplaces, contribute to our arts and culture, and further our historic humanitarian objectives. These essential services will be overshadowed and risk being devalued if they are moved to a Department that has national security and enforcement as its top priority.
- Refugee and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to having their rights and needs overlooked by a Department that may view them as a security risk, based on their country of origin, and thus seek to exclude them from entry to our country on that basis alone.
"IRC does not oppose the creation of a Department of Homeland Security," Rupp said in his letter. "We support your efforts to protect the nation and all its residents. But we believe that INS and State Department services relating to visas should be excluded from DHS, with the exception of those discrete enforcement and security-oriented functions of INS that are more appropriately considered to be of a national security interest."