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Immigration Law

“Immigration" means moving to a foreign country to establish a new life and home. Immigration law provides the rules, regulations, and policies for this process.

The United States, historically built by immigrants, offers several paths to migrate. The most common forms are Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR), often called a "green card," and an immigrant visa.

Immigration policy considers several aspects when granting immigration status. These include family-based reunification, in-demand work skills, and capital investments. Unmarried children and immediate relatives of U.S. citizens are also accounted for. Also, there is a unique "lottery" system in immigration law. Under this system, the U.S. government grants immigrant visas to 50,000 foreign nationals each year. This demographic includes nationalities from all around the world. Many come from Mexico and are often processed in border states like Texas.

The U.S. visa program also protects refugees and asylees. Refugees and asylees are those who cannot return to their home countries because of fear of persecution or due to civil unrest.

In this article, you will learn about the paths to immigration and how it has shaped the United States. It will also talk about the laws and the changes made to immigration law.

United States: A Nation of Immigrants

Millions of foreign nationals worldwide have immigrated to the United States. Between 1900 and 1914, massive waves of immigrants moved into the United States at Ellis Island in New York. Migrants and noncitizens from different national origins made the U.S. a cultural melting pot that contributed to its thriving economy.

But attitudes toward immigrants have continuously changed for more than two centuries. Immigrants are often looked upon favorably and, at other times, met with hostility. And immigration laws have often reflected these changing attitudes.

History of Immigration Laws in the U.S.

The Naturalization Act of 1790 was the first immigration law in the U.S. that made uniform rules in granting U.S. citizenship through naturalization.

Following this act came significant legislation that put restrictions on U.S. immigration. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act placed a quota on Chinese Immigrants to the United States. This became the first significant federal legislation restricting U.S. immigration. It was also the first that restricted immigration based on race or country of origin. Quotas and immigration acts of all types followed.

Over the following decades, immigration grew. By 1906, the U.S. government reformed the path to U.S. citizenship and established the Bureau of Immigration. The Bureau of Immigration gave oversight to the naturalization process.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952 is part of the United States Code (U.S.C.). It is a collection of laws that sets guidelines for various aspects of immigration. This law covers:

  • Naturalization
  • International students
  • Temporary workers
  • Humanitarian protections such as asylum and refugee admissions

Over a decade later, the INA of 1965 ended admissions policies based on race and ethnicity. The act changed the admissions policy to emphasize immigrants' skills and relationships with family members in the U.S. or immigrants who are already in the U.S.

Then, the Immigration Act of 1990 increased the U.S. government's limits on the number of immigrants entering the country. From 1992 to 1994, the cap for this annual limit was 700,000. After that, in fiscal year 1995, the limit dropped to 675,000.

Today, many immigrants in the U.S. come from Asia and Latin America. More recently, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was created under the Obama administration. It protects some undocumented people brought here as children from deportation and allows them to get work permits. But it's limited to a certain time period.

In 2017, the Trump administration attempted to end DACA through an executive order. But the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the attempt. The DACA program was later renewed under the Biden administration.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought new rules in response to public health concerns. These changes also affected the patterns and policies in immigration law.

Enforcement of Immigration Laws

Enforcing immigration laws continues to be an issue. This is particularly the case with handling undocumented immigrants and illegal immigration reform.

The immigration system in the U.S. also gets criticism for its complex laws. Immigrants usually face difficulties when attempting to navigate the rules. For instance, processing for legal status often involves lengthy paperwork and long waiting times. The changing immigration guidelines further complicate the process.

In 2002 the Homeland Security Act of 2002 was passed by Congress, dramatically changing immigration laws. The Act created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS is a cabinet of the federal government that handles immigration matters. It includes three principal agencies:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is the government agency that oversees legal immigration. Its duties include processing immigrants as well as adjudicating immigration-related issues. This includes U.S. visas, green cards, and citizenship applications. The USCIS also offers resources to help immigrants with their visa applications.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement enforces laws related to customs, trade, border control, and immigration. This federal agency includes Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). The HSI handles customs offenses and criminal investigations involving immigrants. ERO focuses on detaining, arresting, and deporting undocumented immigrants.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

Customs and Border Protection is the most significant law enforcement agency in DHS. This agency enforces and collects import duties, facilitates international trade, and enforces U.S. regulation policies. It also manages the U.S. borders at and between ports of entry.

What Happens When Someone is Deported?

When the government forces noncitizens to leave the U.S., the process is deportation. A non-citizen may be deported for various reasons. But the commonly cited reason is violating immigration laws or committing serious criminal acts.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees deportation proceedings. The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) handles deportations more directly.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act is essential in managing U.S. immigration. This act strengthened the immigration laws in the U.S. and added penalties for immigrants who committed crimes. It also gives specific measures for immigration enforcement.

Under U.S. immigration law, EB-3 or employment-based immigration remains a possibility for many people who want to pursue or are pursuing immigration to the United States.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 also significantly changed employment in the United States. The Act's purpose was to make hiring unauthorized immigrants illegal for U.S. employers.

Resources About Immigration Law

FindLaw's Immigration Center has a wealth of information and resources about U.S. immigration policy. It also has information about various types of visas. These include nonimmigrant visas, temporary visas, skilled worker visas, refugee status, and more. You may also learn about citizenship and naturalization through our articles about immigration law.

Congress plays an integral part in defining immigration policies. The Department of State, guided by laws written by Congress, supervises visa applications overseas through its embassies and consular offices.

The U.S. Department of State also offers a comprehensive "fact sheet" about immigration policy updates and requirements for getting U.S. visas.

Learn More From an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Determination of admissibility and inadmissibility for a U.S. visa is overwhelming and confusing. We recommend you seek a qualified immigration law attorney near you. They can answer questions about your application and create a plan tailored to your case.

FindLaw has a detailed directory of immigration lawyers by state. They can help you process your visa application and will make it easier for you.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you get the best results possible.

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