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Enforcement of Immigration Laws in the United States

While the laws governing immigration into the United States are federal laws, the enforcement of those laws may fall to federal or state agencies.


Federal Enforcement of U.S. Immigration Laws

At the federal level, American immigration laws are monitored and enforced by several agencies, including:


  • United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS): The USCIS took over the functions of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) pursuant to the Homeland Security Act of 2002. USCIS administers the nation’s lawful immigration system by adjudicating requests for temporary visas, processing applications for asylum and permanent residence. USCIS handles petitions related to citizenship, family- and employment-related immigration, inter-country adoptions, refugees, and foreign students seeking education in the U.S.
  • The National Visa Center (NVC):Upon approval of a visa petition by the USCIS, the petition is forwarded to the National Visa Center for pre-processing. The NVC also documents and collects the appropriate fees for U.S. embassies and consulates.
  • The U.S. Department of State:The Department of State manages U.S. visa and passport policies and procedures and is responsible for border security. The Bureau of Consular Affairs facilitates legal entry to the United States and manages the Diversity Visa Lottery.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE implements numerous programs and policies relating to investigation and enforcement of U.S. immigration law. ICE has programs aimed at finding and removing undocumented immigrants who are criminals or fugitives. ICE agents also help businesses secure lawful workforces.


State Enforcement of U.S. Immigration Laws

Immigration Enforcement


Federal law encourages the cooperation of state and local authorities in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The federal government has set precedent for cooperation between state and local law enforcement in areas such as Border Enforcement Security Task Forces, the Criminal Alien Program, and the National Fugitive Operations Program, among others.

In addition, Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), entitled Delegation of Immigration Authority, encourages state and local police to work jointly with the federal government to enforce federal immigration laws. Section 287(g) grants the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the authority to enter into formal written agreements with state and local police and grant state and local law enforcement officers the ability to function as federal immigration agents. The written agreements, called Memoranda of Agreements (MOAs), are negotiated between the DHS and local authorities under the supervision of ICE.

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