Most issues governing U.S. immigration are handled at the federal level. States have little say in immigration, although a small number of immigration policies are a matter of international law. So for all intents and purposes, Washington dominates the discussion. And in Washington are the ‘Big 4’ players: Congress, USCIS, ICE, and CBP.
The latter three agencies are all part of the Department for Homeland Security (DHS), an agency that was formed in the years immediately following the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.
As a law firm specializing in business immigration, it is incumbent upon us to understand how all four players influence immigration policy and enforcement. Your company may never have direct interactions with any of the entities other than USCIS. Nonetheless, it is wise to have a good business immigration attorney you can turn to.
Everything relating to U.S. immigration starts with Congress, even business immigration. Only Congress has the authority to pass legislation relating to immigration matters. They also have the authority to create departments like DHS and give them regulatory authority. In essence, the other three players in immigration derive their authority from Congress.
This dictates that Congress exercises the most control over business immigration. Even though senators and representatives rarely get involved directly, their actions on Capitol Hill shape what the other players do and, by extension, the practical impacts of federal immigration policy.
The Immigration Service (USCIS)
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) is the main administrative entity of national immigration policy. You have dealt with this agency if you’ve ever attempted to help foreign-born workers get H-1B visas prior to entry. The agency’s main priorities are:
- administering immigration benefits
- processing immigration and naturalization applications
- issuing green cards and checking on green card status
- issuing non-immigrant visas
- issuing work authorizations
- handling political asylum issues.
If something related to business immigration has to do with administration in any way, USCIS will be involved. Among the Big 4 players, this is the agency we deal with most often in our capacity as business immigration attorneys.
Immigration and Customs (ICE)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is one of two enforcement arms within the DHS. Its primary mission is to enforce federal laws at the border. ICE is active at both our northern and southern borders. They can also be found operating in other parts of the country.
ICE performs its functions from a public safety perspective. But their activities are not limited strictly to preventing illegal border crossings. They are also involved in customs and trade and immigration issues.
Border Patrol (CBP)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is often referred to colloquially as the ‘Border Patrol’. Their main priority is to prevent illegal admission of both people and cargo into the country. They have a huge responsibility in the fight against terrorism.
CBP agents are active at both U.S. borders. Patrol officers do just what their names imply: patrol the borders in order to control access. Other officers work in customs offices, checking travel documents when people arrive by land, sea, and air. Still other officers are tasked with inspecting cargo as it comes into the country. CBP is even responsible for inspecting exported cargo before it leaves the country.
The chances are that you and your company will never have to interact with immigration’s Big 4 players. But if you do, we can assist with qualified immigration attorney services. Graham Adair specializes in immigration law. We can assist with everything from immigration paperwork to expert legal representation.