Immigration and Naturalization Service

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U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Seal of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Flag of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service.png
Flag of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service
Agency overview
Formed June 10, 1933[1]
Dissolved March 1, 2003
Superseding agency USCIS, USICE, USCBP
Jurisdiction U.S. federal government
Headquarters Washington, D.C., U.S.
Parent agency Department of Justice
Old INS building in Seattle, WA

The United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1933–2003.

Referred to by some as former I.N.S.[2] and by others as legacy I.N.S., the agency ceased to exist under that name on March 1, 2003, when most of its functions were transferred to three new governmental law enforcement entities – the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) – within the newly created Department of Homeland Security, as part of a major government reorganization following the September 11 attacks of 2001 in New York City at the World Trade Center, The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, across from Washington, D.C. and in rural southwestern Pennsylvania.

INS was established on June 10, 1933, by a[clarification needed] merger to administer matters related to established immigration and naturalization policy. After 1891, the Federal government, rather than the individual states, regulated all future immigration into the United States, with the largest immigration center at Ellis Island in New York City and second largest at Locust Point in Baltimore,[3] and the Immigration Act of 1891 established a Commissioner of Immigration within the Treasury Department. Over the years, these matters were later transferred to the purview of the United States Department of Commerce and Labor after 1903, then to the newly-separated Department of Labor after 1913, and then under the specific law enforcement powers of the Department of Justice after 1940.

In 2003 the administration of immigration services, including permanent residence, naturalization, asylum, and other functions became the responsibility of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (B.C.I.S.), which existed only for a short time before changing to its current name, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S.). The investigative and enforcement functions (including investigations, deportation, and intelligence) were combined with I.N.S. and U.S. Customs investigators, the Federal Protective Service, and the Federal Air Marshal Service, to create U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.). The border functions of the I.N.S., which included the U.S. Border Patrol along with I.N.S. Inspectors, were combined with U.S. Customs Inspectors into the newly created U.S. Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.). The 2000 film documentary "Well-Founded Fear" provided the first and only time a film crew was privy to a behind-the-scenes look at the I.N.S. asylum process in the U.S.A.


The I.N.S. (Immigration and Naturalization Service) administered the Immigration and Nationality Act (Title 8, United States Code) which included inspecting and persons arriving at an official Port of Entry (P.O.E.), detecting and deterring illegal entry between the ports (by the U.S. Border Patrol, a component of the I.N.S.) and by sea, and conducting investigations of criminal and administrative violations of the Act. The I.N.S. also adjudicated applications for permanent residency (the so-called famous "green cards"), change of status, naturalization (the process by which an alien (foreign-born person) becomes a citizen), and similar matters.


At the head of the I.N.S. was a commissioner appointed by the President of the United States, who reported to the Attorney General in the Department of Justice. The I.N.S. worked closely with international responsibilities and coordination with the United Nations, and two additional Presidential Cabinet departments, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The I.N.S. was a very large and complex organization that had four main divisions—Programs, Field Operations, Policy and Planning, and Management—that were responsible for operations and management.

The operational functions of the I.N.S. included the Programs and Field Operations divisions. The Programs division was responsible for handling all the functions involved with enforcement and examinations, including the arrest, detaining, and deportation of illegal immigrants as well as controlling illegal and legal entry.

The Field Operations division was responsible for overseeing I.N.S.' many offices operating throughout the country and the world. The Field Operations division implemented policies and handled tasks for its three regional offices, which in turn oversaw 33 districts and 21 border areas throughout the country. Internationally, the Field Operations division oversaw the Headquarters Office of International Affairs which in turn oversaw 16 offices outside the country.

Managerial functions of the I.N.S. included the Policy and Planning and Management divisions. The Office of Policy and Planning coordinated all information for the I.N.S. and communicated with other cooperating government agencies and the public. The office was divided into three areas: the Policy Division; the Planning Division; and the Evaluation and Research Center. The second managerial division, called the Management division, was responsible for maintaining the overall mission of the I.N.S. throughout its many offices and providing administrative services to these offices. These duties were handled by the offices in the agency of Information Resources Management, Finance, Human Resources and Administration, and Equal Employment Opportunity.


Immigrant Inspectors, circa 1924

Shortly after the U.S. Civil War, some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in 1875 that immigration was a Federal responsibility.[4] The Immigration Act of 1891 established an Office of the Superintendent of Immigration (also known as the Commissioner of Immigration) within the Treasury Department.[5] This office was responsible for admitting, rejecting, and processing all immigrants seeking admission to the United States and for implementing national immigration policy. 'Immigrant Inspectors', as they were called then, were stationed at major U.S. ports of entry collecting manifests of arriving passengers. Its largest station was located on Ellis Island in New York harbor. Among other things, a 'head tax' of fifty cents was collected on each immigrant.

Paralleling some current immigration concerns, in the early 1900s Congress's primary interest in immigration was to protect American workers and wages: the reason it had become a federal concern in the first place. This made immigration more a matter of commerce than revenue. In 1903, Congress transferred the Bureau of Immigration to the newly created (now-defunct) Department of Commerce and Labor, and on June 10, 1933 the agency was established as the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[1]

After World War I, Congress attempted to stem the flow of immigrants, still mainly coming from Europe, by passing a law in 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924 limiting the number of newcomers by assigning a quota to each nationality based upon its representation in previous U.S. Census figures. Each year, the U.S. State Department issued a limited number of visas; only those immigrants who could present valid visas were permitted entry.

There were a number of predecessor agencies to INS between 1891 and 1933. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was formed in 1933 by a merger of the Bureau of Immigration and the Bureau of Naturalization.[5]

Both those Bureaus, as well as the newly created INS, were controlled by the Department of Labor. President Franklin Roosevelt moved the INS from the Department of Labor to the Department of Justice in 1940,[5] citing a need for "more effective control over aliens" as the United States moved closer to joining World War II.[6]

By July 1941, Justice Department officials had decided that the INS would oversee the internment of enemy aliens arrested by the FBI should the U.S. enter the war, and immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor these plans went into effect. By December 10, three days after the attack, the INS had 1,291 Japanese, 857 German and 147 Italian nationals in custody.[7] These "enemy aliens," many of whom had resided in the United States for decades, were arrested without warrants or formal charges. They were held in immigration stations and various requisitioned sites, often for months, before receiving a hearing (without benefit of legal counsel or defense witnesses) and being released, paroled or transferred to a Department of Justice internment camp.[7] Starting in 1942, the INS also interned German, Italian and Japanese Latin Americans deported from Peru and other countries. It is estimated that 17,477 persons of Japanese ancestry, 11,507 of German ancestry, 2,730 of Italian ancestry, and 185 others were interned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the war.[8]

In November 1979, Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti announced that INS "raids" would only take place at places of work, not at residences where illegal aliens were suspected of living.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The 2000 documentary film Well-Founded Fear, from filmmakers Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini marked the first time that a film-crew was privy to the private proceedings at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS), where individual asylum officers ponder the often life-or-death fate of the majority of immigrants seeking asylum. It provided a high-profile behind-the-scenes look at the process for seeking asylum in the United States. The film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival and was broadcast in June 2000 on PBS as part of POV.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service". National Archives and Records Administration. Originally published 1995. Retrieved July 15, 2010. Established: In the Department of Labor by EO 6166, June 10, 1933.)  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. ^ What's correct, the term legacy I.N.S. or the term the former I.N.S.?
  3. ^ Ellis Island, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior
  4. ^ Chy Lung v. Freeman
  5. ^ a b c Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, National Archives. Accessed July 15, 2010
  6. ^ "The President Presents Plan No. V to Carry Out the Provisions of the Reorganization Act," The Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1940 Volume (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941) pp 223-29.
  7. ^ a b Mak, Stephen. "Immigration and Naturalization Service". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 30, 2014. 
  8. ^ Kashima, Tetsuden. Judgement Without Trial: Japanese American Imprisonment During World War II (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2003), pp 124-25.
  9. ^ Frum, David (2000). How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, New York: Basic Books. p. 271. ISBN 0-465-04195-7. 

External links[edit]

Opinions and experiences with the INS[edit]