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What Laws Govern Immigration?

As a democratic nation with a federal system of governance, the United States handles immigration matters through legislation that’s proposed, debated, voted on, and enacted by Congress. After the president signs approved bills into law, various processes of rulemaking and implementation begin, sometimes with a period of public commentary that’s used to gauge the opinions of concerned Americans. Since 1965, the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) has served as the main compendium of laws that determine how the immigration system should be managed. 

The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA)

Whenever you hear politicians and commentators talk about the need to reform the U.S. immigration system, they’re referring to overhauling the INA so a new set of rules can be drafted and implemented. Although the INA has been amended numerous times since 1965, it hasn’t gone through comprehensive reform since 1996. The main argument in favor of reform is that the INA is turning into the Immigration Act of 1924, which by 1952 had become complex, convoluted, and contradictory after being patched with amendments and other acts of Congress.

Subsequent Legislation

The INA is still the main body of law dealing with all matters concerning foreigners in the U.S. The designation of the State Department as the issuer of non-immigrant visas is codified in the INA, which also governs the creation of agencies such as United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, the law isn’t monolithic because it has been shaped by the enactment of the following:

  • Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986
  • Immigration Act of 1990
  • Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
  • American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 
  • Patriot Act of 2001
  • Homeland Security Act of 2002
  • Real ID Act of 2005 


Administrative Authority

Although some of the federal laws above include “reform” in their names, they were piecemeal attempts at reform. The Patriot, Real ID, and Homeland Security Acts have had a major impact on the INA without any reform. In fact, USCIS was one of more than a dozen federal agencies that merged into the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after 2002. As the situation stands in 2023, USCIS is subordinate to DHS despite having some level of administrative independence. 

There’s a Homeland Security Council created by the Patriot Act. It’s chaired by White House leadership plus eight members of the presidential cabinet whose resolutions can impact the way the immigration system is managed. This happens through processes that trickle down from DHS to USCIS, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Border Patrol, and other agencies.

The intricate sets of laws and rules that govern the American immigration system are the reason immigration law firms, such as those who provide immigration services in San Diego, operate. In addition to the laws listed above, there’s an expectation of due process. This allows immigrants to question USCIS adjudications, challenge decisions, and argue against deportations before the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Not all lawmakers feel comprehensive immigration reform is needed. Many of them feel an administrative overhaul can be accomplished at the rulemaking level, which means Congress wouldn’t have to debate and vote on new laws. The problem with this strategy is that it can be easily opposed and undone at the DHS level, which means it’s subject to political interference. This is why reforming the INA is a more sensible option.

Hiring a highly qualified immigration attorney is one of the best ways to make the immigration process less complicated and stressful. If you need reliable, high-quality legal advice about San Diego immigration issues, reach out to the experienced immigration law attorneys at KS Visa Law. To schedule an appointment, call us today at 858-874-0711.

May 2024