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Overview and History
The federal government of the United States has broad authority to regulate immigration matters in the United States and exercises plenary power in the area. However, depending on the area of immigration law you are interested in, you may need to consult publications from a number of different federal departments and agencies to find relevant authority.
Prior to 2002, immigration was primarily governed by Immigration & Naturalization Services (INS). Following the September 11th terrorist attacks, many immigration services were transfered to the newly-created Department of Homeland Security (DHS), effective March 1, 2003.
Major Agencies in Immigration Law
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Department of Homeland Security
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Under the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services governs the administration of immigration and citizenship benefits. On a practical level, USCIS is most well-known for processing immigration forms and applications.
Administrative Appeals Office (AAO)
The AAO hears appeals from USCIS decisions on many types of immigrant and nonimmigrant petitions, such as employment-based visa petition decisions. Decisions of the AAO are subject to judicial review by federal courts. AAO decisions are available in PDF online, organized by visa classification and date of decision.
U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
ICE serves an investigative role in enforcement of U.S. immigration law.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP):
In addition to performing other border protection duties, CPB enforces U.S. immigration and drug laws at U.S. borders.
Department of Justice's Executive Office of Immigration Review
EOIR includes the following subdivisions:
Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ)
OCIJ sets policies and procedures for immigration judges in immigration courts throughout the United States. They do not hear administrative appeals from immigration cases; this duty is handled by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
The Board of Immigration Appeals conducts appellate review of decisions of immigration judges and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) district directors on issues of family-sponsored immigration and removal cases. BIA primarily conducts paper review of decisions and has few in-person hearings. Decisions of the BIA selected as precedential are binding for district directors and immigration judges, and are subject to the judicial review of federal courts.
Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO)
Under the authority of the Chief Administrative Hearing officer, OCAHO is responsible for conducting administrative hearings on certain enumerated INA provisions. Specifically, OCAHO hears cases arising under violations of INA § 274A (employer sanctions); § 274B (immigration-related unfair employment practices); § 274(C) (immigration-related document fraud) and 8 U.S.C. § 1375a (information requirements for international match making organizations.) OCAHO decisions are subject to judicial review by federal courts.
The "trial-level" court in immigration proceedings are immigration courts. There are 59 immigration courts spread across 28 U.S. States.
Department of Labor
The Department of Labor helps to implement certain labor-related immigration laws and regulations under the INA through its:
To hire foreign workers, U.S. employers must demonstrate that "there are not sufficient workers who are able, willing, qualified and available" to fulfill the position and the employment of a foreign worker "will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States similarly employed." The application by which an employer demonstrates of these attributes is commonly referred to as a labor certification, though there are many different types of certification for specific visas.
The Department of Labor's Office of Foreign Labor Certification site provides an overview of the labor certification process in addition to directives, advisories, regulations, and specific programs:
If an employer's labor certification application is not successful, the employer can appeal the decision through the:
Department of State
The State Department has two roles in implementation of immigration policy within the United States.
First, the State Department issues both nonimmigrant and immigrant visas to individuals applying from abroad through the:
Second, the State Department aids refugees, victims of conflict and stateless people throughout the world through the: