The management (or mismanagement) of the flows of immigrants into the United States is, thanks to Congress, an extremely complicated task assigned to at least eight agencies spread over four cabinet departments. If anything, the second Bush Administration's decision to re-organize the immigration process (and dismantle the old Immigration and Naturalization Service) made matters more complex.
One way of looking at the immigration management scene is to imagine the U.S. and its population as a large lake, adjacent to a large sea (the rest of the world). Between the two bodies of water there is a large, and leaky dam (our immigration control mechanism). The maintenance and the operation of the dam is handled by the agencies mentioned above.
Running through the dam there are four flows of permanent or would-be permanent migrants. (We are excluding the flows of temporary migrants.) Three of these flows come through three different sets of more-or-less managed pipes and the fourth is the leakage of illegal immigration.
Of the managed flows, one set is numerically limited by the Congress; another set is variable and is controlled by the Executive Branch (e.g., refugees); and the third is a wide-open set of pipes controlled by decisions made not by any agency but by the would-be immigrants themselves; the largest subgroup in this category are the aliens who are immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
To strain the metaphor a bit, there is also a reverse flow pipe through the dam that is also managed by no one, and whose exact size is not recorded anywhere. This is the departure of emigrants to other countries, such as U.S. citizens deciding to retire abroad in warm and inexpensive countries, and the, presumably larger, reverse flow of illegal aliens and some legal ones in times of recession. The number of emigrants is always much smaller than the number of immigrants.
In charge of the four inward sets of flows are eight different federal agencies, some playing more important roles than others. The eight are divided among four cabinet departments, as follows:
The Department of Homeland Security: What had been the INS has now been divided into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which makes many admission decisions; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an interior law enforcement agency; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol and port-of-entry inspections functions.
The Department of State: The Bureau of Consular Affairs screens aliens overseas who want to migrate to the U.S., and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration decides how many refugees, from what places, should be admitted to the U.S.; the latter number varies widely from year to year.
The Department of Justice: Formerly the home agency to the INS, Justice retained two immigration management functions after the departure of that entity to DHS. These are the Executive Office for Immigration Review (the umbrella organization for the various immigration judges who often make decisions on whether an alien can stay in the U.S. permanently) and the Office of Immigration Litigation of the Civil Division, the entity that provides the lawyers who argue the government's position before judges on immigration matters.
The Department of Labor: Historically, another one-time home of INS, it now helps determine what alien workers can get green cards through the labor certification program, one of the smaller pipes through the proverbial dam.
More detailed information about these agencies will be provided in future blogs.
If you enjoyed this blog, check out others in this series by David North: