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What is the Immigration and Naturalization Service?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Jan 22, 2024
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The Immigration and Naturalization Service was a United States (US) federal agency that was often referred to as the INS. During its existence, this agency had a broad range of responsibilities, which included enforcing immigration at the borders and maintaining immigration procedures for those already on US soil. Many felt that its vast amount of duties caused the agency to be inefficient and commonly erroneous. This service was disbanded early in the 21st century and its duties were divided among newly formed federal agencies.

Attempts to control immigration into the US is not a modern concept. Immigration services date back to 1891. Naturalization services, which allow foreigners to become United States citizens, were not created by the federal government until the 20th century.

The INS began with the official title of Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. This agency was opened in 1906 after the Naturalization Service was created. The link between these two agencies was, however, divided seven years later in 1913 when they were transferred to the Department of Labor.

These two services were not again connected until 1933. When this happened, the name Immigration and Naturalization Service was assigned. While the agencies were split, the Immigration Service had acquired the US Border Patrol, which also became part of the newly formed INS. From 1940 until 2003, the Immigration and Naturalization Service operated as part of the Department of Justice.

Following the terrorist attacks in the US in 2001, the federal government felt there was a need for greater security and efficiency with regards to immigration. As a result, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 eliminated the INS and created three new services. In 2003, immigration duties regarding benefit applications became the responsibility of the newly formed agency now called the US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS). This agency still deals with naturalization and also aims to ensure the legality of other immigration efforts.

Another agency known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) assumed certain enforcement duties that were once held by INS. This includes the authority to investigate and deport those who have violated immigration laws. ICE’s mission is to protect the people of the US and the homeland by upholding its duties.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was the third entity to assume Immigration and Naturalization Service duties. CBP assumed the role of immigration with regards to US borders. It has a priority mission of keeping terrorists out of the US. All of these new agencies operate under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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Discussion Comments
By David09 — On Sep 26, 2011

@NathanG - I am glad everything was smooth sailing for you. Unfortunately, I had a couple of friends who were undocumented workers, and they didn’t have it easy at all.

You’re right – honesty is the best policy. They tried to run and hide, and eventually were busted by I.C.E. and hauled off into prison. It was a tragic sight to witness because these people were personal friends, and I didn’t want any harm done to them, notwithstanding their legal status.

But the United States immigration and naturalization service is tough nowadays, just like the article says. These two guys tried to plead their case by phoning some immigration lawyers and even attempting to write letters to a senator, but it was all to no avail. Within thirty days they were deported.

By NathanG — On Sep 26, 2011

When I married my Asian wife I made a petition for her to receive U.S. citizenship. We went to the immigration and naturalization service office and met with the examiner.

I had been forewarned about this meeting. I was told by friends that the immigration department was always on the lookout for fake marriages; these would be foreigners marrying United States citizens for the purpose of quickly obtaining U.S. citizenship.

That was certainly not the case with us, but in these matters you’re sort of guilty until proven innocent.

To prove that our marriage was legitimate, we brought all sorts of records to show that we were living in the same household. Then we were interviewed separately. Fortunately, our answers lined up, so our petition was expedited.

I have to admit, these immigration people have a tough job on their hands. But if you’re honest everything should be smooth sailing.

By live2shop — On Sep 25, 2011

I'm glad we have a Homeland Security agency. At times, it is really a nuisance to go through all the security checks and what not.

But it is better than having a terrorist slip through the cracks and cause us harm.

I'd like to know how well we are able to secure the long borders of both Mexico and Canada. I know a lot of undesirables get through the Mexican border, but I wonder how many are getting through the Canadian border.

By Clairdelune — On Sep 24, 2011

In the first half of the 1900s, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had a huge job to do. It's no wonder it became bogged down and not able to handle the influx of immigrants at that time. They were responsible for everything from testing for diseases and giving shots to setting up English classes and helping the immigrants to become citizens.

They had to monitor the borders and watch for illegal entry into the U.S.

After a lot of changes, I think it is now set up well, with three different divisions. Each of these has certain well-defined responsibilities.

By Azuza — On Sep 24, 2011

@Monika - I agree, it does make sense to split up the duties of naturalization and border patrol and give them to two separate agencies.

However, I feel like the duties of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection are pretty similar. The word "customs" is even in the title of both agencies! We probably don't need two agencies for that, just one.

By Monika — On Sep 23, 2011

Wow. I clearly do not follow national news enough, because I had no idea that immigration and naturalization service didn't exist anymore! I'm a little bit ashamed of myself, truthfully.

When I read through the article it makes sense that the government decided to split up the duties of the INS though. It sounds like they really had a lot on their plate.

I know ever since 9/11 we've really tightened up security in this country. I really don't think the INS could have kept up the stricter regulations.

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