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Evolution of Immigration Agencies: From the INS to USCIS

When President Joe Biden delivered the 2024 State of the Union address in March, he urged Republican members of Congress to agree to a legislative compromise on border security and a few immigration matters. The compromise was crafted by political leaders on both sides of the aisle because many Republicans feel nothing short of comprehensive reform, including the dismantling of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), should be advanced to the voting stage.

If comprehensive immigration reform ever happens, there’s a good chance USCIS will cease to operate. It would likely be replaced by a new agency under a different name, but it would still manage the immigration system. This is what happened to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. San Diego and nationwide immigration policies and procedures were under its purview until the federal agency was replaced by USCIS after the enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The INS had operated since 1940 until the Department of Homeland Security was formed in direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. For this reason, it’s correct to say that the INS doesn’t exist anymore because it was dissolved by Congress.

All INS duties and functions were assumed by USCIS upon dissolution. Some functions have been retired, while many others have been amended, but the mission of managing the immigration system is still the same. Similar to what USCIS has been going through since the Trump administration, the INS era had various periods of controversy, inefficiency, and political pressure that eventually required reform. The agency was reformed in 1965 and again in 1986, but its name, mission, and main structure weren’t changed.

What Has Changed from INS to USCIS?

The INS was in charge of Border Patrol agents and the inspectors checking foreign arrivals at ports of entry. These days, USCIS doesn’t conduct direct enforcement because there are two separate agencies under the Department of Homeland Security: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

USCIS is a modern agency that coordinates the execution of non-immigrant visa programs such as the H-1B visa for skilled workers, which is granted by the Department of State. The immigration benefits managed by USCIS are essentially the same as those previously handled by INS. They include visas, work permits, green cards, asylum requests, refugee applications, naturalization, and others. The main functions of USCIS continue to be the processing and adjudication of applications and petitions along with the collection of fees. USCIS fees add up to more than 95% of the agency’s funding.

Seasoned immigration attorneys in San Diego, CA, who were active during the INS era will tell you many things have improved for their clients in some aspects. However, they’ll also remember times when the backlogs weren’t so disheartening, enforcement wasn’t overzealous, and political animosity didn’t get in the way so often. 


If you have questions about any aspect of the immigration process, contact the immigration lawyers San Diego residents trust. The attorneys at KS Visa Law have vast experience with every aspect of immigration law, and they’re the attorneys to call on when you need the most up-to-date information about immigration regulations. Call KS Visa Law today to schedule an appointment.

May 2024