What is and how does the United States immigration system work?
With a lot of complexity, this article will try to define the immigration system of the United States as best as possible.
Unfortunately, in the United States (inside or outside its borders) exist multiple agencies, services, departments, legislatures, executive branch, and courts, which greatly influence the process and results in an immigration case. I say unfortunately because the great variety of branches and agencies could make the processing of an immigration case a complicated matter. I mention here some of them for your consideration:
Or “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services”. You can see more information about said agency on its internet link at: https://www.uscis.gov
“United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement”. You can see more information about said agency on its internet link at: https://www.ice.gov
Or “United States Department of Homeland Security”. More information about said agency on its internet link at: https://dhs.gov/about-dhs
“United States Department of State”. More information about said agency on its internet link at: https://state.gov
O “United States Customs and Border Protection”. You can find more information about this agency on its internet link at: https://www.cbp.gov. This is a branch of the United States Department of Home Security mentioned above.
Or “United States National Visa Center”. This is a branch of the United States Department of State (mentioned above). You can see more information at: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/immigrate/national-visa-center.html
“United States Department of Labor”. You can see more information at: https://www.dol.gov
“United States Executive Office of Immigration Review”. More information regarding this office is available at: https://www.justice.gov/eoir
Or “United States Board of Immigration Appeals”. More information regarding this bureau at: https://www.justice.gov/eoir/board-of-immigration-appeals
Known as “United States Department of Justice”. See more information about this department at: https://www.justice.gov
Quite a few agencies and services right? They are all interconnected and dependent on one another’s work, which makes the processes within the immigration system sometimes slow and complex.
About the agencies, departments and offices of the immigration system
We cannot detail or establish the complex relationships between the United States immigration agencies and services that we mentioned above, but we will try to outline what each one deals with.
“United States Citizenship and Immigration Services”: This is a branch of the Department of Home Security that we mention below. After the event on September 11, 2001 in the United States, what was formerly called “U.S.I.N.S.” o “United States Immigration and Naturalization Services” ceased to exist; and, in its place, the U.S.C.I.S. under the mantle of the Department of Home Security mentioned below.
This agency of the immigration system is in charge of processing applications for work visas, asylums, and citizenships, among others. For instance, an application for asylum is sent to U.S.C.I.S., whose agents interview the applicant. If he does not pass the interview, then the case is referred to the immigration court for judicial decision; but to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (or E.O.I.R., mentioned in this article).
“United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement”. Let’s say this is the branch for immigration police. Has officers who must enforce deportation or removal orders, arrest people who are without proper documents or status in the United States, prevent the illegal movement of people and merchandise inside the United States.
This branch has, at least, four sub-branches (called operational directorates) as follows:
- “H.S.I.” (or “Homeland Security Investigations”). This first sub-branch is responsible for investigating, breaking, dismantling transnational criminal organizations and terrorist organizations which try to, or threaten to, exploit United States immigration and border laws.
- “E.R.O.” (or “Enforcement and Removal Operations”). This directorate is dedicated in attacking public threats, such as undocumented people who are criminals or people who have re-entered the United States, after having been deported; as well as the arrest of fugitives who are wanted for crimes in the United States.
- “M & A” (or “Management and Administration”). This branch provides important contributions to the infrastructure of the U.S.C.I.S. and maintains budget, accounting and finances to support the agency and ultimately
- “O.P.L.A.” (or “Office of the Principal Legal Advisor”). It is the largest in the U.S.I.C.E. and is composed of more than 1,100 lawyers who are prosecutors in front of immigration Court of E.O.I.R (mentioned below) to try to prosecute undocumented persons in court.
Its officers identify themselves in public, airports and ports, by their initials in the uniforms of: “I.C.E.” or “H.S.I.”, for example.
The “United States Department of Homeland Security”. The mission of the D.H.S. is to protect the United States from different threats against it, from illegal immigration to aviation, border security, among other activities.
“United States Department of State”. This department is dedicated, in part, to supervise and create embassies and consulates of the United States in foreign countries, to provide passports, and to provide visas to foreigners. That is, if U.S.C.I.S. approves a case of visas, then the State Department is in charge to provide said visas to the foreigner.
“United States Customs and Border Protection”. This is a branch of the United States Department of Homeland Security mentioned above. Basically, these are the border patrols which are in charge of intercepting people and / or merchandise which are coming into the United States illegally. Its officers can be identified at U.S. airports. by the initials on their uniforms of: “C.B.P.”
“United States National Visa Center”. This is a branch of the State Department of the United States (mentioned above). This center is highly interconnected with U.S.C.I.S. (which I mentioned above) well, once U.S.C.I.S. approves an immigrant’s petition or application requesting a visa, U.S.C.I.S. It sends the immigrant’s petition to the National Visa Center to process the visa in the adequate moment.
“United States Department of Labor”. One person would say: “What does the Department of Labor of the United States have to do with immigration?”. The answer is that it has a lot to do with work visas. For example, some of these authorizations require a “Labor Certification” which is issued by the Department of Labor, but U.S.C.I.S. requires for its analysis and petitions and applications processing.
“United States Executive Office of Immigration Review”. Basically, this is a branch of the United States Department of Justice (which I mention below). As well as a net of immigration courts and judges.
They have quite strict rules, on how to present and / or defend a case when the person has been placed in deportation/removal proceedings. In such courts appear the lawyers of the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) as prosecutors to process those persons whom U.S.C.I.S. has referred for removal/deportation proceedings. Multiple trials take place on a daily basis
“United States Board of Immigration Appeals”. When the immigration Court of the E.O.I.R. enters a judicial order or sentence in a case, the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.) or the immigrant, have the right to appeal the decision. The appeals body which regulates those appeals is the Bureau of Immigration Appeals of the United States.
“United States Department of Justice”. This is composed, basically, of the federal courts of the United States, their prosecutors, and their offices. They are in charge of enforcing federal laws. Not only immigration laws but also other laws related to crimes or illegal behaviors, not only of immigrants but also of United States citizens and/or legal residents of the United States. This department supervises the E.O.I.R. courts which I mentioned here.
Lawyers specializing in the American immigration system
As you can see, immigration laws are carried and processed through multiple agencies, departments and services, not only one central agency or office. It becomes very complex, even for an immigration lawyer. We always recommend that you obtain a lawyer who represents your interests in your immigration status case. If you wish to retain our immigration legal services you can contact us at:
Abogado Alejandro R. Lopez, Law Office of Alejandro R. Lopez, P.A.
4465 Edgewater Dr., Suite A – Orlando, Fla. 32804
Tel.: (407) 649-1404