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Acronyms galore! Navigating the U.S. Department of Immigration

When researching the naturalization process to become a United States citizen one may come across many disparate, yet seemingly connected governmental departments. For example, there is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

You may also come across the now-defunct U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services Department (INS). INS was disbanded and its functions have been taken over by the DHS. One other department or office you might see is the United States Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

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Wow! That is a lot of departments, acronyms, and different functions that you may face during a citizenship petition. Interestingly, a few of the departments or offices are subsets of DOS, while the remaining ones fall under other branches of government. Don’t worry, though. In this article, you will learn the specific functions of each and how they may overlap. You will also get useful information like the best methods to contact each department and when you should reach out to one versus another one.

Department of Homeland Security

The DHS began in 2002 as a direct response to the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The DHS’ essential purpose is to protect the United States, its citizens, and its borders. This protection includes preventative action against terrorism and other domestic situations or risks. The department’s reach covers both inside and outside the borders of the U.S. Because the cabinet’s enforcement and definition are broad, the DHS has separated its cabinet into different arms. These arms include: USCIS, CBP, and ICE.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

USCIS was the arm that took over most of the former ICE’s functions. If you are at all petitioning the United States for citizenship, a visa, a Green Card, or asylee or refugee status, you will have to go through the USCIS. Any forms related to immigration or naturalization petitions must be obtained and processed through USCIS. This arm is also responsible for adjudicating decisions related to immigration and asylee or refugee claims. Most of their decisions are held at the USCIS centers around the country. They also have the power to grant United States Citizenship and Green Cards. Their aims include helping with all immigration cases and improving national security. USCIS is best described as a facilitator or service provider.

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Complete your immigration paperwork using our online software. We make it easy!

Overlaps with other departments

USCIS primarily overlaps with EOIR. If an immigration case needs to heard in front of a judge, it will appear before the United States Immigration judges and courts. If the case needs to be further adjudicated and is appealed, it will be heard in front of the Board of Immigration Appeals. Both of these courts are part of EOIR, and as such, these two arms of government are closely related.

Other Information

USCIS is best utilized by people that are on a U.S. citizenship or permanent resident pathway. Whether you are petitioning to fully naturalize, are looking to obtain a work authorization, or are applying for a Green Card, USCIS should be one of the first contacts with the DHS.

Have you ever wondered why the immigration and naturalization forms are so expensive? Well, it is because USCIS is mostly funded by fees generated from filing fees. You heard right. The operations costs are passed along to the petitioners and users of the service. While some may find this appalling, others will say that at least USCIS is mostly spared when it comes to budget cuts. According to recent figures, only 1% of USCIS’ budget comes from the government.

If you need to contact USCIS, they maintain a website where you can book an INFOPASS session at the office nearest you. INFOPASS is free and is very useful if you have general questions about immigration or your specific case. If you feel your questions could be answered by an website search, the rest of the USCIS site has very helpful and thorough information. They also have a national helpline/service phone line. The main phone number is 800-375-5283, with additional lines for hearing or vision impaired help. As an added bonus, their official Twitter account is very active and responsive.

United States Customs and Border Protection

If you have ever traveled to the United States from abroad, you have encountered the CBP. This department is present at land border crossings, in international airports, and at sea checkpoints. With almost 350 recognized checkpoints, CBP is best described as an enforcement agency. The chief goal of CBP is to hinder or intercept terrorists and/or their weapons from entering the United States. Also, they will seize any illegal drugs and/or paraphernalia before they enter the country. Important to immigration, they will stop any person from entering the country illegally from any border. They are especially diligent against the smuggling of people and/or contraband. Further, if you are found to be a fugitive, you will be captured if you attempt to enter the U.S. Similar to most other countries’ immigration, CBP is also persistent of protecting the agricultural integrity of the country. Thus, be cautious if you try to enter the country with crops, fruits, or vegetables.

Overlaps with other departments

CBP and ICE work very closely together and sometimes their responsibilities mirror each other with both organization’s reach encroaching on the other.

Other Information

You will likely not need to ever initiate contact with CBP, unless you are providing useful information that could help them protect U.S. borders. You will, however, come into contact with this agency is you are crossing any border into the country. Your experience will mostly be seamless unless you are engaged in illegal activity.

CPB has a website full of information that could help you answer questions. Also, they have a general help phone number, 1-877-CBP-5511, if you seek specific information that is not available online. Email and Twitter are also both options to ask questions or get help.

United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Wait. If ICE has enforcement in its name, why is CBP also an enforcement agency? This is a great question and one that has caused people to scrutinize both arms for their perceived inefficiencies due to overlapping authority. However, ICE is both an enforcement arm and an investigative arm. In fact ICE is separated into two pieces: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

Homeland Security Investigations

As the name implies, this part of ICE is the primary investigative force. They focus on trafficking of weapons, people, and drugs. They also track counterfeit currency and other types of fraud. Human rights violations are also monitored by HSI. Their investigations span across the globe as they work with international governments to track and monitor international crime rings or individuals.

If you are ever subject to deportation, ERO will be the enforcement agency. ERO has a special band of enforcement agents called Deportation Officers (DOs). DOs are the ones that find, apprehend, and removes any person found to be unlawfully in the United States. If someone is already detained by ICE’s, DOs are responsible the transportation of the detainee to their home country. Further, if a previously deported person illegally returns to the United States, Dos will apprehend and prosecute them.

Overlaps with other departments

As stated above, CBP and ICE work closely with another. So closely that if alleged misconduct occurs from either department, ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility will investigate.

Greatly related to immigration is the Immigration and Nationality Act Section 287(g). This section seeks to increase cooperation with ICE and local enforcement agencies. If authorizes local agents to become official extensions of ICE, if they undergo training and if the circumstances are warranted. This law is under increasing scrutiny because it broadens ICE’s reach and could open the door to racial discrimination and profiling.

Other Information

ICE has about 200 detention centers throughout the country, including space in some prisons and jails. Another interesting fact, ICE has its own “Most Wanted” list. Yikes-wouldn’t want to be on that one!

Hopefully, you will not have to come into contact with ICE for any reason. If, however, you want to contact them, they have a website which includes and online tip form, a detainee locator, and phone lines to provide crime tips. So, ONLY contact ICE if it is absolutely necessary. Being a responsible and morally sound citizen should help you remain off of their radar.

Department of Justice (DOJ)

In this article we will discuss only one aspect of the DOJ, and that is the EOIR. Quite simply, the EOIR adjudicates immigration cases. If your immigration case, perhaps a removal proceeding, has to go before a judge, you will be in immigration courts overseen by EOIR.

The best way to gleam information about the EOIR is to visit their website. If you would like to get case status information a number ( 1-800-898-7180) is provided. For general questions and other information, use the DOJ website and/or contact form.

Hopefully, this article has increased your confidence and understanding of how the United States Departments of Immigration work. As you can see, they are separate, yet connected entities. Some of them are necessary, while others you hope to never encounter. All of them, however, are vital pieces to obtaining and maintaining U.S. citizenship. If you have further questions and want to get more information, USCIS is the perfect place to start. It is step one of the path anyway so why not begin there?

Complete your immigration paperwork using our online software. We make it easy!

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