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Immigration Law Research Guide: Federal Agencies

Provides general and specialized sources for researching U.S. immigration law, including online government resources, statutes, regulations & case law, plus general and specialized secondary sources and immigration-related organizations.

General Information

Immigration is regulated by the federal government.  The main source of statutory law is the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), originally passed in 1952.  For more than 60 years, the agency responsible for enforcing immigration law was the Immigration and Naturalization Service, an agency within the Department of Justice, headed by the U.S. Attorney General.  After the terrorist attacks against the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 abolished the INS and created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  (Pub. L. No. 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135).

The Homeland Security Act transferred the primary responsibility for enforcing and administering immigration laws from the Attorney General to the Secretary of the DHS, and created three separate agencies within DHS to handle immigration functions: one to administer benefits and services (USCIS) and two to handle law enforcement functions (ICE and CBP).  The Attorney General and the Department of Justice have retained some enformcement powers.  Other federal agencies regulating immigration include the Department of Labor and the Department of State.

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contains the following agencies:

  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): USCIS is the agency responsible for administering immigration benefits and services.  Sections of the website include Forms, News, Citizenship, Green Card, Tools, and Legal Resources.  The Legal Resources section includes Federal Register announcements, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Code of Federal Regulations ( 8 CFR), and policy memoranda.  Contains useful information for practicing attorneys and members of the public.  An expanded Spanish USCIS site is also available.

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE is responsible for investigations, detention and removal, intelligence and the administration of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP): CBP conducts inspections and enforces immigration and customs law at U.S. ports of entry, through border patrol and customs agents.

Department of Justice

The Department of Justice (DOJ) webpage now has a Spanish version; see "Justice.gov en español."  The Department of Justice contains the following agencies:

  • Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR): The EOIR oversees adjudications of DHS administrative actions, the immigration judges, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Office (OCAHO), and the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).  The main page has a link to immigration courts nationwide and to the Immigration Court Practice Manual.  See the "Statistics and Reports" tab for the BIA Practice Manual.

    • EOIR Virtual Law Library: Includes links to Attorney General (AG) and BIA decisions (I & N Dec. Volumes 8, 1958 - ) and index, OCAHO decisions (1988- ), AG and BIA Precedent Decisions, C.F.R. Title 8, Immigration-related notices in the Federal Register (FR), the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), TPS information, and Country Conditions information. 

  • Immigrant and Employee Rights Section (IER): (formerly OSC, the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices): The IER enforces the anti-discrimination provisions of the INA, Section 274B (8 U.S.C. 1324b.)  Located within the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, the IER protects U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from employment discrimination based upon national origin and citizenship or immigration status, unfair documentary practices during the employment eligibility verification process, and retaliation.

Department of Labor

Department of Labor: In order to hire foreign workers, U.S. employers must go through a process called "labor certification" with the Department of Labor.  If an employer's labor certification application is denied, the employer can appeal to the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA).  For general information, see the link for "Foreign Labor" (Topics > Hiring > Foreign Labor.) There is also a webpage for the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) with links on the many issues involved in submitting a labor certification application, including forms.

Office of Administrative Law Judges, Immigration Collection: Provides access to decisions from the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) and several other types of immigration-related decisions.  Includes links to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, selected statutes and regulations, and agency contact information.

Department of State

The State Department is responsible for issuance of visas.  It publishes the Foreign Affairs Manual, which contains information on citizenship and nationality (Volume 8) and interpretations and instructions on provisions for issuing visas and waivers (Volume 9).  The monthly Visa Bulletin, which shows the waiting times for immigrant visas in different categories and from different countries, is available on the State Department's website.