Single Immigration Agency Urged : Legislation: A panel formed by Congress says a top-level unit is needed to centralize functions now widely dispersed.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A top-level agency is needed to bring leadership and order to the chaos created by several federal agencies involved in the nation's immigration and refugee policies, a congressional commission said Tuesday.

"Immigration policy requires constant study and attention at a senior level of government," said the report by the Commission for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, a 12-member, bipartisan group formed by Congress.

The goal "can best be achieved by centralizing the current widely dispersed government structure for handling immigration and refugee affairs in a single agency whose head reports directly to the President," the report continued.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), two lawmakers intimately involved in immigration legislation, said the creation of a new central agency was an idea worth pursuing.

Neither, however, rushed to join Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who introduced a bill to create the Agency for Migration Affairs, as suggested in the report.

Cranston's bill would consolidate all the functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service except the U.S. Border Patrol with the Consular, Refugee and Human Rights and the Humanitarian Affairs bureaus of the State Department. It would also create a commissioner for migration affairs, who would be appointed by the President with advice and consent of the Senate.

Currently, consuls at the State Department issue visas in other countries for entry into the United States. The INS, an arm of the Justice Department, has authority over immigrants after they arrive in the country, including the authority to issue work-authorizing green cards.

"We need a new, top-level agency, headed by a commissioner reporting directly to the President, with centralized responsibilities currently being handled--or mishandled--by five government agencies or bureaus," Cranston said during a news conference unveiling the commission's report.

Diego C. Asencio, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state and commission director, seemed surprised that Cranston took the recommendation seriously enough to offer a bill on the day of the report's release.

Calling the legislation "provocative," Asencio said the commission suggested the creation of a new agency as a means to "start the debate" on the nation's disjointed immigration oversight. "Other possibilities are out there to get to the same point," he said.

At an earlier hearing before the House Foreign Relations Committee, Asencio said the commission found that job creation in Mexico and other countries offers the best solution to stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States.

"Promoting economic development is the proper way to proceed if we are serious about stemming unauthorized migration in this hemisphere over the long term, and I must emphasize that we are talking about a process that will probably take decades," he said.

The commission, established by Congress in 1986 as a part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act, also suggested:

--Pushing for a free trade agreement with Mexico.

--Supporting increased trade with other Western Hemisphere countries.

--Allowing Mexico and Caribbean countries to make and ship to the United States the cloth, clothes and steel that currently comes from Asia.

--Increasing sugar imports from Caribbean nations.

--Requiring major decisions on aid and trade with other countries to feature an "impact statement" detailing the effect the decision would have on international migration.

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