The history of managing and regulating immigration in the United States stretches back more than 160 years to the 1860s.
The task of developing and passing legislation related to immigration rests on the shoulders of the U.S. Congress. Once it has been approved by Congress, the legislation still has to be signed by the American president before it becomes law. From there on, the various federal agencies are responsible for implementing the legislation.
The most important piece of immigration legislation at present is the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act), which was originally passed in 1952. Since then, it has been modified many times.
The most important legislation approved since then include the 1986 IRCA or Immigration Reform and Control Act, the Immigration Act (approved in 1990), and the 1996 IIRIRA (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act). The USA-Patriot Act, approved in 2001, deals mainly with intercepting and obstructing acts of terrorism.
Various other bills and acts also contain legislation that could affect prospective immigrants. The 2005 REAL ID act, for example, contains provisions that prohibit undocumented immigrants from getting an official federal driver’s license.
Recent immigration-related changes in US government agencies
Over the last 20 years, there have been several notable changes in the organizational structure of the government agencies that are responsible for managing immigration-related tasks in the US. Probably the most significant of these came after the approval of the Homeland Security Act in 2002.
In terms of this legislation, the bulk of the duties related to drawing up immigration-related policies and implementing them was transferred from the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) to the new DHS (Department of Homeland Security) in 2003. The Homeland Security Act also transferred various tasks related to visa procedures and policies from the DOS (Department of State) to the newly created Department of Homeland Security.
The situation on the ground is, therefore, that various different US government agencies are currently responsible for specific functions related to immigration. At the moment, there is simply not one government bureau or agency that is tasked with developing immigration policy, coordinating the different tasks involved, and measuring the effectiveness of the different federal agencies involved with immigration.
The following federal agencies are currently involved with the implementation, support, and enforcement of immigration-related legislation that was approved by the government’s legislative branch:
– DOS (Department of State)
– DHS (Department of Homeland Security)
– DOJ (Department of Justice)
– ED (Department of Education)
– DOL (Department of Labor)
– HHS (Department of Health and Human Services)
Department of State
The US State Department’s primary responsibility is to issue US visas, including non-immigrant and immigrant visas. When a citizen of a foreign nation wants to visit the US temporarily or to start the process of becoming a permanent resident, a visa is normally required. The Department of State is responsible for deciding who qualifies for a visa and who doesn’t.
The Department of State is also responsible for the following:
– Releasing a visa bulletin every month which summarizes the situation over the last month
– Issuing both non-immigrant and immigrant visas
– Managing the DV or Diversity Visa Lottery, whereby eligible individuals are randomly selected from the six different geographical areas
Department of Homeland Security
USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services)
This bureau manages everything related to people legally entering the US. Employers who sponsor foreigners and family members of those individuals must submit their applications to the USCIS, supported by the necessary documentation.
People who want to immigrate to the United States will therefore be dealing with USCIS officials quite a lot. The naturalization interview, for example, is conducted by the USCIS. It also managed the various civics and English tests for prospective US citizens, as well as the “green card” interviews.
Apart from these, USCIS also runs the e-verify program that enables employers to confirm whether or not their employees are properly documented and qualify to take on employment within the US.
ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
ICE dates back to 2003. Its role includes immigration law enforcement and investigations. Its tasks also include identifying and detaining undocumented aliens and, where applicable, removing them from the US.
One of ICE’s priorities is apprehending and removing fugitives and people who have been convicted of a crime and who represent a threat to United States security. Another duty is the removal of individuals who entered the US recently without the necessary permissions.
CBP (US Customs and Border Protection)
This organization is responsible for the security of the United States borders, not only at ports of entry but also between them. It also helps to facilitate legitimate travel and trade. For this, it uses Border Patrol agents and inspectors that enforce customs, agricultural, and immigration legislation.
This is an independent office that controls the use of biometric indicators to follow the movement of people who hold nonimmigrant visas at American air, sea, and land entry ports.
OIS (Office of Immigration Statistics)
This department’s responsibilities include the development, analysis, and dissemination of statistical data related to immigration, including the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.
The DOJ (Department of Justice)
EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review)
This office has to adjudicate immigration cases, and it also administers and interprets immigration law. The EOIR has the following components:
– BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals)
– OCIJ (Office of the Chief Immigration Judge).
– OCAHO (Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer
– OIL (Office of Immigration Litigation
– OSC (Office of Special Counsel for Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices
ED (Department of Education)
OELA (Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students
This office makes sure that children (including children of immigrants) who have limited proficiency in English get the necessary English proficiency, so they comply with the same standards as any other student.
Office of Migrant Education
The role of this office is to manage grant programs that offer academic and related services to the kids of migrant workers who are employed in the fishing, agricultural, and timber industries.
OVAE (Office of Vocational and Adult Education)
This office provides support for national research, demonstration, evaluation, capacity building, and technical assistance. Its programs include the CAELA (Center for Adult English Language Acquisition) and adult literacy.
DOL (Department of Labor)
The following offices resort under the DOL:
ILAB (Bureau of International Labor Affairs)
ESA (Employment Standards Administration)
ETA (Employment and Training Administration)
HHS (Department of Health and Human Services)
Office of Refugee Resettlement
This office offers funding to private and public entities, states, and non-profit voluntary agencies to help asylees and refugees resettle in the US and become self-sufficient. It also oversees the care of minors who are not accompanied by an adult.
MHSP (Minor Head Start Program)
This is a national program where the migrant subdivision is responsible for modifying delivery in order to meet the often unique requirements of migrant farm workers. The program aims to deliver services to lower-income children of preschool age as well as their families. The goals are linked to health, education, social services, and parental involvement.
MHP (Migrant Health Program)
This program, which resorts under the Health Resources and Services Administration) offers grants to non-profit community organizations for linguistically and culturally relevant preventive and primary health services for seasonal and migrant farm workers as well as their families.