House votes to replace INS with two new agencies

The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to abolish the Immigration and Naturalization Service and replace it with two new agencies in the Justice Department.

The bill (H.R. 3231) passed on a 405-9 vote.

Before the vote, Attorney General John Ashcroft ventured to Capitol Hill to anounce the Bush administration's support for the measure, while saying the White House still has some concerns about it.

Appearing at a joint news conference with House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who sponsored the IRS overhaul bill, Ashcroft said he planned to work with Senate sponsors of similar legislation, and with House members, "to reach an accommodation on the bill. This is not the end of the journey, but an important set of first steps."

A statement of administration policy released Wednesday evening said the administration is concerned with provisions of the bill "that weaken the authority of the new associate attorney general for immigration affairs position in comparison with the existing INS commissioner position."

Ashcroft sidestepped those questions, saying the bill "puts us on the road to real achievement." Ashcroft also said he "would be delighted for [INS Commissioner] James Ziglar to continue to lead our efforts" in whatever form the agency is restructured.

Asked if he was satisfied with Ashcroft's endorsement, Sensenbrenner replied, "Very satisfied."

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who has introduced his own more radical INS restructuring plan, said the House Judiciary bill does not go far enough.

"This effort falls seriously short of real reform that is needed," Kolbe said. "The bill brought to us today simply rearranges the boxes on the existing organization chart of INS."

Before approving the bill, the House rejected, on a 272-145 vote, an amendment offered by Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., that would have made all jobs in the two new immigration bureaus "excepted service" positions, meaning they would not be included in the competitive civil service or the Senior Executive Service.

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Immigration Subcommittee Chairman Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said Wednesday evening he was "surprised" by the administration's support of the House bill, "since I know the administration shares my view that significant problems continue to exist with that bill. The House bill significantly reduces the authority of the agency's head and diminishes coordination within the agency. In reforming the INS, we need to maintain strong overall leadership to ensure uniformity, efficiency and decisive action in a crisis. Now is not the time to diminish the power of the person running the nation's immigration agency."

Kennedy said he would soon unveil his own INS restructuring bill, and Thursday announced a May 2 hearing on the legislation. Ziglar is expected to testify.

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