What’s in a name? More than one might think, when it comes to immigration.

The mission of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service was clearly reflected in its name: helping immigrants enter the U.S. and putting them on the pathway to becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. It was a service, offering assistance to people seeking a new home within our country.

What we have now is something quite different. According to its own website, the successor to the INS, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, enforces federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration to promote homeland security and public safety. There is no mention of “service” to immigrant populations, and the focus seems to be restricting entry and keeping people out.

Even the acronym – ICE – feels cold and unforgiving. The new name, created in 2003 when the U.S. Customs Service and the INS were merged, either purposefully or inadvertently reflects the fundamental shift in U.S. governmental attitudes about immigration that followed the events of September 2001.

The name change from INS to ICE reflects how our opening statement to immigrants has also changed, from “How can we help you become U.S. citizens?” to “Prove that you are not coming here to hurt us.” Too bad.

James Norton

South Portland