Immigration is an important topic in the United States, with millions of people from around the world seeking to enter the country each year for various reasons, including work, study, and reunification with family members. The U.S. government has a complex system in place to manage immigration, which involves several key offices and agencies at the federal level. Understanding the role of these federal immigration agencies is crucial for individuals seeking to navigate the U.S. immigration process, as well as for policymakers and the public at large.
This article provides an overview of the key government offices and agencies involved in managing U.S. immigration, including responsibilities of each agency, the types of applications and petitions they process, and their overall role in the immigration process.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is a federal agency responsible for administering immigration and naturalization laws in the United States. The agency was created in 2003 as part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has since become one of the largest government agencies responsible for managing U.S. immigration.
USCIS operates under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for processing immigration benefits, including visas, Green Cards, citizenship applications, and humanitarian immigration programs in the U.S..
Tasks and responsibilities of USCIS include:
- Processing applications for visas such as K-1 fiancé visa, citizenship/naturalization, and adjustment of status applications for,
- Conducting background checks, fingerprinting, and interviews on applicants
- Processing applications for Employment Authorization Documents (EADs). An EAD, also known as a work permit, allows individuals who are authorized to work in the United States to legally obtain employment.
- Adjudicating claims for asylum and refugee status, providing protection to individuals who have fled their home countries due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on factors such as race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.
- Administering Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a humanitarian immigration program that provides temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to individuals from designated countries facing ongoing armed conflict, natural disasters, or other extraordinary circumstances
- Administering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization for certain individuals who were brought to the United States as children
- Managing the U visa program, which grants temporary immigration benefits to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime
- Managing the T visa program, which provides temporary immigration benefits to victims of human trafficking who assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking cases.
- Implementing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provisions, an immigration provision that aims to protect victims of domestic violence, abuse, or certain crimes committed by U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members.
- Managing the Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) program, which offers a pathway to lawful permanent residence for certain immigrant children who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents
- Processing and adjudicating various immigration waivers for exemptions or forgiveness from certain immigration requirements or grounds of inadmissibility
- Providing information and resources to applicants and the public about immigration-related matters
- Administering the E-Verify program to confirm the eligibility of workers for employment in the United States.
- Collaborating with other government agencies and international partners on immigration-related issues
- Promoting and facilitating legal immigration through various programs and initiatives
USCIS plays a critical role in the immigration process, as it is responsible for approving or denying applications and petitions. The agency reviews applications and supporting documentation to ensure that applicants meet the eligibility requirements for the particular visa or benefit they are seeking. USCIS may also require additional documentation or information before making a final decision.
Once an application is approved, USCIS issues the necessary documents, such as an immigrant visa or Green Card. If an application is denied, USCIS typically provides an explanation for the decision and information on how to appeal the decision, if applicable.
Learn the difference between a Green Card and a visa.
USCIS has more than 19,000 employees and serves as the primary source of information and assistance for individuals seeking to immigrate to the United States.
USCIS Atlanta Field Office
The USCIS Atlanta Field Office is one of the many field offices operating under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This immigration office, located in Atlanta, Georgia, serves residents of Georgia and the surrounding regions.
Responsibilities and Operations:
- Local Application Processing: The Atlanta Field Office processes specific immigration applications based on the resident’s location, including applications for naturalization, Green Cards, and other immigration services.
- Applicant Interviews: One of the primary responsibilities of this office is conducting immigration interviews with applicants to further assess and validate the information provided in their applications.
- Outreach Programs: The office often engages in local outreach efforts, educating communities about various immigration services, changes in the law, and how to access USCIS resources.
- Customer Service: The field office is equipped to address queries and concerns of local immigrant applicants, providing clarity on application procedures, timelines, and requirements.
- Collaboration with Local Entities: The Atlanta Field Office works closely with local, state, and federal partners, ensuring a smooth flow of information and coordination for immigration-related activities in the region.
Online Appointment Request Form:
As of August 2023, USCIS introduced a new online appointment request form:
- Purpose: Individuals, attorneys, and accredited representatives can use the online form to request in-person appointments at the Atlanta Field Office (and other local field offices). Specific needs such as ADIT stamps, Emergency Advance Parole, Immigration Judge Grants, among others, are catered for.
- How It Works: This is not a self-scheduling system. Requesters can propose their desired date and time, but USCIS has the discretion to assign slots based on availability. The USCIS Contact Center reviews these forms and the available appointment slots at the specific field office.
- Enhanced Customer Experience: This system is designed to enhance the user experience by collecting necessary data upfront. There’s a potential for the appointment to be scheduled without further engagement with the USCIS Contact Center. Depending on the appointment’s reason and urgency, however, the Contact Center might still need to contact the requester.
For more comprehensive details and to access the form, visit my.uscis.gov/appointment.
The USCIS Atlanta Field Office plays a crucial role in bridging the gap between the central USCIS administration and local applicants, ensuring timely processing and fostering trust in the immigration system among the residents of Georgia. It’s essential to note that operations and services might differ based on local requirements, and it’s always recommended to check their official webpage or contact the office directly for specific information and guidance.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for securing the nation’s borders and facilitating legitimate trade and travel. CBP operates under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for enforcing immigration and customs laws at the ports of entry and along the borders.
Tasks and responsibilities of CBP include:
- Inspecting individuals and goods entering the country at ports of entry to ensure compliance with immigration and customs laws
- Enforcing laws related to the import and export of goods
- Preventing the entry of individuals who pose a threat to national security or public safety
- Conducting interdiction operations to prevent the smuggling of illegal goods, drugs, and weapons
- Providing security at key national events and critical infrastructure.
In addition to enforcing immigration laws at ports of entry, CBP also has the authority to conduct enforcement operations within 100 miles of any U.S. border or coastline. This includes conducting vehicle checkpoints, making arrests, and conducting searches for undocumented immigrants.
Tip – Avoid abandoning your Green Card with extensive travel outside the U.S.
CBP also manages the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) program, which allows travelers from certain countries to apply for visa-free entry to the United States. The program is designed to enhance security while facilitating travel to the United States for eligible individuals.
CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, with more than 60,000 employees. Its mission is to protect the nation’s borders while facilitating lawful trade and travel.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing immigration and customs laws in the United States. ICE operates under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is responsible for enforcing immigration laws both inside and outside the country.
Tasks and responsibilities of ICE include:
- Investigating and arresting individuals who are in violation of immigration laws, including those who are in the country illegally or have committed crimes
- Managing detention facilities for individuals who are in immigration proceedings
- Removing individuals who are in the country illegally or who have committed crimes
- Combating human trafficking, smuggling, and other criminal activities related to immigration
- Conducting investigations and operations to identify and apprehend individuals who pose a threat to national security.
ICE is also responsible for managing the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which oversees foreign students studying in the United States on F and M visas. The program ensures that foreign students are complying with the terms of their visas and maintaining their status while studying in the United States.
In addition to its law enforcement activities, ICE also works with other government agencies and organizations to enhance public safety and national security. This includes coordinating with local law enforcement agencies on investigations and providing support during emergencies and natural disasters.
ICE is a controversial agency that has faced criticism for its enforcement practices and treatment of immigrants. However, it remains a key player in enforcing immigration laws in the United States.
U.S. Department of State (DOS)
The U.S. Department of State (DOS) is responsible for managing the visa application process for individuals seeking to come to the United States. The DOS works with U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to process visa applications and provide information on the visa application process.
Tasks and responsibilities of the DOS include:
- Managing the visa application process for individuals seeking to come to the United States
- Providing information on visa requirements and the visa application process
- Conducting interviews and issuing visas to qualified applicants including consular processing
- Managing the Diversity Visa program, which provides a limited number of visas to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States
- Working with U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to process visa applications
- Maintaining the Consular Consolidated Database, which contains information on visa applicants and their biometric data
- Issuing travel warnings and alerts for U.S. citizens traveling abroad.
The DOS works closely with other U.S. government agencies, including USCIS and CBP, to ensure that the visa application process runs smoothly and efficiently. The agency also plays a critical role in promoting U.S. interests around the world and strengthening diplomatic relationships with other countries.
Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA)
The Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA) is responsible for providing services to U.S. citizens abroad and to foreign nationals seeking to enter the United States. The CA is part of the U.S. Department of State and is responsible for the following tasks:
- Processing visa applications at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad
- Providing information on visa requirements and procedures
- Managing the Diversity Visa Program, which provides a limited number of visas to individuals from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States
- Issuing U.S. passports and providing other passport services to U.S. citizens, including renewals and name changes
- Providing assistance to U.S. citizens abroad, including emergency services and information on local conditions and safety concerns
The CA plays an important role in the U.S. immigration system, as it is responsible for processing visa applications and managing the visa issuance process at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. It is important to note that visa processing times and requirements can vary depending on the country and the type of visa being applied for, so it is important to consult with the CA’s website or contact the relevant embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date information.
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing the law and defending the interests of the United States. The DOJ has several components that deal with immigration-related issues, including the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) and the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO).
Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice that is responsible for adjudicating immigration cases. The EOIR is responsible for the following tasks:
- Adjudicating immigration cases in immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)
- Hiring and managing immigration judges and Board Members
- Conducting legal research and providing training to immigration judges and Board Members
- Implementing policies and procedures related to the adjudication of immigration cases
The EOIR plays a critical role in the U.S. immigration system, as it is responsible for adjudicating immigration cases and interpreting immigration law. It is important to note that immigration court proceedings can be complex and can have significant consequences for individuals and families, so it may be advisable to seek the assistance of an immigration attorney.
Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO)
The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice that is responsible for adjudicating cases related to employment-related immigration law. The OCAHO is responsible for the following tasks:
- Adjudicating cases related to employer sanctions, document fraud, and discrimination in employment based on citizenship status or national origin
- Conducting administrative hearings and issuing decisions on cases
- Providing guidance to the public on the application of immigration laws related to employment
The OCAHO plays an important role in enforcing immigration laws related to employment and protecting the rights of immigrant workers. It is important to note that employers who violate immigration laws related to employment can face significant penalties and fines, so it is advisable to consult with an immigration attorney to ensure compliance with these laws.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the United States and its citizens. As part of its mission, the DHS is responsible for enforcing immigration laws and regulations.
Tasks and responsibilities of the DHS include:
- Securing the U.S. borders and enforcing immigration laws
- Operating the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which processes immigration benefits and services
- Operating U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which enforces immigration laws and investigates immigration-related crimes
- Operating U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for securing U.S. borders and ports of entry
- Coordinating with state and local law enforcement agencies on immigration enforcement issues
- Implementing programs and policies to prevent terrorism and other threats to national security.
The DHS plays a critical role in the U.S. immigration system by enforcing immigration laws and regulations and ensuring the safety and security of the country. In addition to CBP and ICE, the DHS has several other agencies responsible for immigration-related matters. These include:
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): As discussed earlier, USCIS is responsible for processing applications for visas, permanent residency, and naturalization.
- U.S. Coast Guard: The U.S. Coast Guard plays a role in protecting U.S. borders, including intercepting and detaining undocumented immigrants attempting to enter the United States by sea.
- U.S. Secret Service: While primarily responsible for protecting the President and other government officials, the U.S. Secret Service also plays a role in investigating and preventing fraud and other criminal activities related to immigration.
- Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM): Office of Biometric Identity Management is responsible for collecting and maintaining biometric information, such as fingerprints and facial recognition data, on individuals seeking admission to the United States.
The DHS also works closely with other federal agencies, such as the DOJ and the DOL, to ensure that individuals who violate U.S. immigration laws are held accountable and that the rights of immigrants are protected.
U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) is responsible for enforcing labor laws and regulations in the United States. As part of its mission, the DOL is also responsible for ensuring that employers comply with immigration laws.
Tasks and responsibilities of the DOL include:
- Certifying the employment of foreign workers through the Foreign Labor Certification program
- Investigating complaints of labor law violations, including those related to immigration
- Enforcing regulations related to wages and working conditions for all workers, including immigrant workers
- Collaborating with other government agencies to ensure that employers comply with immigration laws and regulations
- Developing policies and programs to protect the rights of immigrant workers and prevent discrimination based on immigration status.
The DOL plays an important role in protecting the rights of all workers, including immigrant workers, and ensuring that employers comply with labor and immigration laws.
The DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is responsible for managing the H-1B visa program, which allows U.S. employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations. The ETA ensures that U.S. employers comply with certain wage and labor standards when hiring foreign workers and that American workers are not displaced by foreign workers.
The DOL’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) is responsible for enforcing certain labor laws that apply to all workers in the United States, including foreign workers. The division ensures that all workers, regardless of their immigration status, are paid fairly and receive certain benefits, such as overtime pay.
In addition to regulating the employment of foreign workers, the DOL plays a role in providing services to immigrant workers who may be vulnerable to exploitation. The agency works with other federal agencies, such as ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), to ensure that immigrant workers are not subject to human trafficking, forced labor, or other forms of exploitation.
Dealing with U.S. Government Immigration Agencies
The U.S. government has multiple offices and agencies responsible for immigration-related matters, each with its own unique responsibilities and roles. These agencies work together to enforce U.S. immigration laws, regulate the employment of foreign workers, protect the rights of immigrant workers, and provide services to immigrants and refugees.
Navigating the complex and often confusing world of U.S. immigration law can be challenging. Whether you are seeking to enter the United States, apply for a visa or green card based on family or humanitarian immigration programs, or are facing deportation proceedings, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the role of each federal agency and to ensure that your legal rights are protected.
In addition to these immigration agencies, there are also many nonprofit immigration organizations and legal clinics that offer assistance and resources to individuals dealing with U.S. immigration matters. It’s important to do your research and find reputable sources of information and support.
Hiring an experienced immigration lawyer can be instrumental in helping you navigate the immigration system and work with these government agencies effectively. An immigration lawyer can help you understand the requirements and regulations involved in your immigration case, advise you on the best course of action, and represent you in legal proceedings.
Learn about the cost of hiring an immigration lawyer for your case.
Are you finding it challenging to navigate the complexity of U.S. immigration agencies and understand their respective roles? At Glenn Immigration LLC in Atlanta, GA, we’re here to guide you. We invite you to reach out to our expert team, led by immigration attorney Pepper Glenn, for comprehensive assistance and guidance on your immigration matter. Don’t face these complexities alone; contact us today for a consultation.