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Immigration Law

Provides a brief overview of the U.S. immigration system, and summarizes the sources of law and other reference materials that are critical for legal research within this field.

Structure of the US Immigration System

Multiple federal agencies are responsible for managing various functions within the U.S. immigration system.

In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created and charged with the enforcement of U.S. immigration laws; the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) ceased to exist and its previous duties were transferred to and divided between three agencies under DHS authority:

  1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) – responsible for the adjudication of immigration benefits, including naturalization, lawful permanent residency (“green card” status), family and employment-based applications, work authorization, adoption, and political asylum/refugee status.
  2. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (USICE) – responsible for immigration apprehension, detention, and removal (deportation) operations; worksite enforcement; and criminal investigations of fraud, smuggling, and drug/ human trafficking.        
  3. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) – responsible for the inspection and admission of people and cargo entering the U.S. by air, land, and sea.  The U.S. Border Patrol is a part of this agency.

Through its network of Consulates abroad, the U.S. Department of State is responsible for processing overseas immigrant and non-immigrant (temporary) visa applications for individuals who seek entry into the United States.  The State Department additionally directs the J-1 visa visitor exchange program, and is involved in refugee policy issues through its Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) adjudicates Applications for Labor Certification (also known as PERM), which are filed with certain employment-based immigration petitions.  The DOL additionally reviews Labor Condition Applications for nonimmigrant and seasonal workers, and establishes standards for wages and employment conditions for foreign nationals.   

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), through the CDC Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, makes determinations regarding vaccination requirements for immigrant applicants and identifies medical conditions that may prohibit a visa applicant from entering the U.S. or becoming a permanent resident.  DHHS additionally operates the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which provides public benefits and other services to refugees and children who have entered the U.S. as unaccompanied minors.