The INS is no more. On March 1, 2003, it was split into three agencies under the Department of Homeland Security: the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The INS is one of the first agencies of the U.S. federal government that one will encounter upon arrival in the United States of America. Its two basic functions, as its name implies, are to track incoming aliens and naturalize new citizens. The service currently employs 29,000 people at 300 ports of entry, 33 domestic offices, and 39 overseas offices, with an annual budget of $6.3 billion (including $1bn in emergency counterterrorism measures) under the administration of George W. Bush.

Until 1875, there were no federal laws in the United States regulating immigration, but as immigration surged in the 1880's, the Supreme Court authorized Congress to pass legislation regulating entry to the country. At first, the United States Customs Service watched over immigrants, but eventually the need for a more specialized bureau became apparent. The INS was born in 1891 as the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration, under the Department of the Treasury. It opened its first, and most famous, station at Ellis Island in January of 1892.

In 1895, the Office became the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, and in 1903, it was transferred to the Department of Commerce and Labor. In 1913, Commerce and Labor split, and so did Immigration and Naturalization. The latter two were reunited in 1933 to form the modern INS, and in 1940 INS was moved to the Department of Justice. It remained under Justice until 2002, when it was moved into the new Department of Homeland Security.

Criticism of the INS today is heavy, wide, and unrelenting. Illegal immigrants constantly slip over the Mexican border and land on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, eluding the efforts of the INS's Border Patrol. They have good reason, too: legally migrating to the United States is a ridiculously lengthy process, involving long waiting periods and extensive red tape as applications are processed and re-processed. In New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, and elsewhere, prospective immigrants form long lines around the INS office on a daily basis, hoping and praying that they'll make it to the door by the time the office closes. According to the INS themselves, getting a green card takes an average of 13 months: citizenship takes an average of 10 months, and in many cases can take years.

To make matters worse, the INS currently has some of the worst accounting of any federal agency, so the Office of Management and Budget really has no clue where taxpayer money is going after it passes through John Ashcroft.

Quick facts on US immigration

Most immigrants to the US: Mexico, Philippines, India
Most aliens: Mexico, Philippines, El Salvador
Most illegal aliens: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala
Most naturalized: Mexico, Cuba, Vietnam
Most tourist visas: Japan, United Kingdom, Germany
Most student visas: Japan, South Korea, China

For more information: www.ins.gov

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