Late Twentieth Century
As in the past, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) adapted to new challenges which emerged during the 1980s and 90s. Changes in world migration patterns, the ease of modern international travel, and a growing emphasis on controlling illegal immigration all shaped the development of INS through the closing decades of the 20th century.
Adopting New Approaches to Immigration Law Enforcement
INS’s responsibilities expanded under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. IRCA charged the INS with enforcing sanctions against United States employers who hired undocumented aliens. Carrying out employer sanction duties involved investigating, prosecuting, and levying fines against corporate and individual employers, as well as deportation of those found to be working illegally. The 1986 law also allowed certain aliens illegally in the U.S. to legalize their residence. INS administered that legalization program.
Revising Immigrant Selection and the Naturalization Process
The Immigration Act of 1990 (IMMACT 90) revamped the immigrant selection system once again. IMMACT 90 increased the number of available immigrant visas and revised the preference categories governing permanent legal immigration. Immigrant visas are now divided into 3 separate categories: family-sponsored, employment-based, and “diversity” immigrants selected from countries with low immigration volumes by lottery.
The 1990 Act also established an administrative procedure for naturalization and ended judicial naturalization. Federal Naturalization Examiners now grant or deny naturalization petitions.
Dawning of a New Millennium
The INS workforce, which numbered approximately 8,000 from World War II through the late 1970s, increased to more than 30,000 employees in thirty-six INS districts at home and abroad by turn of the 21st century. The original force of Immigrant Inspectors evolved into a corps of specialist officers focused on individual elements of the agency’s mission. As it entered its second century, INS employees:
- Enforced laws providing for selective immigration and controlled entry of tourists, business travelers, and other temporary visitors;
- Inspected and admitted arrivals at land, sea, and air ports of entry;
- Administered benefits such as naturalization and permanent resident status;
- Granted asylum to refugees;
- Patrolled the nation’s borders; and
- Apprehended and removed aliens who entered illegally, violated the requirements of their stay, or threatened the safety of the people of the United States.