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Immigration Law

Immigration as a System

Doris Meissner, Ruth Ellen Wasem, MPI, Oct. 2021

"In response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from a patchwork of agencies charged to varying degrees with counterterrorism and broader responsibilities relating to the protection of the homeland. The functions of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service became one of the department’s largest sets of responsibilities. Its three resulting immigration components—U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—made up 34 percent of the DHS budget and 44 percent of its personnel in fiscal year 2020.

Almost two decades since the department was founded in 2003, the immigration functions of these three components have been heavily defined by their national security dimensions, even as their missions encompass a much wider array of national interests—from economic competitiveness and travel facilitation, to legal immigration, and global leadership in refugee protection and foreign student education.

With action on immigration stalled in Congress, this report examines questions of structure—rather than policy—and proposes changes within the authority of the executive branch to enable DHS and related agencies to treat immigration as a system, allowing them to operate as one to successfully carry out the immigration mission in all its aspects.

The report is part of MPI’s Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy Initiative, launched in 2019. The initiative is generating a big-picture, evidence-driven vision for the role immigration can and should play in America’s future."