The Immigration System Overview

Department of Homeland Security

In the United States, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) possesses authority to administer immigration law. This includes regulatory activity inside and outside (consular processing) the United States. Within the DHS, the following three bureaus are given separate immigration responsibilities: Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Although these three DHS bureaus have separate responsibilities, it must coordinate with each other on many issues.

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ICE is responsible for enforcement of customs and immigration laws within the country. These responsibilities include charging, arresting, and deporting persons in violation of immigration laws. For example, John is arrested by local police for a minor traffic violation. If local police suspect that John is illegally in the country, it will call ICE officers to check John's immigration status and possibly charge and detain him if he is illegally in the country.

On the other hand, the USCIS is responsible for reviewing immigration applications. Whether a student applies for a student visa (F-1) or an United States Citizen (USC) applies for a visa for his immigrant wife or an employer sponsors an employee to enter the US, USCIS will handle each of these visa applications.

Finally, the CBP are those responsible for border patrol and inspecting immigrants who enter the country. CBP patrol both the Canadian and Mexican borders to apprehend persons attempting to enter the country illegally. The CBP is also responsible for screening persons at ports of entry (airports and seaports). For example, John's tourist(B-2) visa is approved by the USCIS, and he arrives at the Los Angeles, CA airport from Venezuela. At the airport, CBP officers may prohibit John from entering the US even though his tourist visa was approved by the USCIS.

The Immigration Court System

The immigration court system is separate and distinct from the regular court system in the United States. Immigration cases (deportation and removal proceedings) are presided by immigration judges who are not considered judicial judges but rather administrative judges.

Under the immigration court system, persons found removable by an immigration judge has the right of appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). In these appellate cases, the Attorney General may personally review each case if he so chooses.

A person may also appeal a denied visa petition by the USCIS. These appeals are carried out within the USCIS (by the Administrative Appeals Unit) and not by immigration judges.