Senators Question DHS Decision to Throw Open Vital Immigration Functions to the Lowest Bidder

WASHINGTON – A group of thirty-four Senators Thursday urged Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to reconsider a recent decision to subject the jobs of Immigration Information Officers (IIOs) to competition with private contractors. The Senators opposed the move, part of the Bush Administration’s drive to privatize work performed by federal employees, because it could potentially compromise the nation’s security and cause yet more delays in the immigration process.

“The decision to subject these jobs to possible privatization would have been objectionable enough prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It defies belief in their wake,” wrote the Senators. “Considering the President’s repeatedly-stated intention to provide more efficient services for lawful immigrants, we believe that the last thing the Department of Homeland Security should do is to replace knowledgeable immigration professionals with contract employees.” Senator Byrd, Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee and the Subcommittee on Appropriations on Homeland Security, said: “This outsourcing initiative is yet another example of the Administration allowing private corporate interests to trump the larger interests of the American people. The safety of the American people should not be dictated by a for-profit business bottom line.” “Immigration Information Officers are highly skilled professionals responsible for an enormously complicated business. Outsourcing these jobs to contract employees raises serious concerns, not only with respect to the integrity of the immigration adjudication process, but also with respect to accountability and efficiency. The immigration services agency is still reeling from the drastic changes it has undergone in the last year,” said Senator Kennedy, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship. “Outsourcing immigration information officers will worsen the situation for individual applicants, their families and their employers, and more importantly, could jeopardize our security.” “It would be short-sighted and wrong to subject these jobs to possible privatization. These workers screen immigration applications for fraud and perform background checks on applicants. They help keep our nation secure, and we should be thanking them, not replacing them,” said Senator Leahy, Ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. “I am deeply troubled that Secretary Ridge would consider sidelining these experienced, well trained and knowledgeable employees at a time when they are needed most. As threats to our security grow, Secretary Ridge should be focused on uniting his team at the new department, not undermining it through costly competition,” said Joe Lieberman, Ranking Member of the Governmental Affairs Committee. This letter was signed by: Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Patrick J. Leahy, Robert C. Byrd, Edward M. Kennedy, Frank Lautenberg, Harry Reid, Patty Murray, Daniel K. Akaka, Barbara A. Mikulski, Christopher J. Dodd, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jeff Bingaman, James M. Jeffords, Richard J. Durbin, John Edwards, Thomas R. Carper, Russell D. Feingold, Mark Pryor, Maria Cantwell, E. Benjamin Nelson, Jack Reed, Barbara Boxer, Paul S. Sarbanes, Tim Johnson, John F. Kerry, Jon S. Corzine, Ron Wyden, Byron L. Dorgan, Ernest F. Hollings, Carl Levin, Tom Daschle, Dianne Feinstein, Mary L. Landrieu and Blanche L. Lincoln.