The Immigration Managers - The Departments of Labor and Justice

By David North on October 6, 2009

The principal U.S. migration management agency has done a lot of institutional migrating over the decades. During the late 19th Century, as the Bureau of Immigration, it was first in the Department of the Interior, and then in the Treasury Department. It moved to the no-longer-existing Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903, and then became one of the main parts of the Department of Labor when it was created in 1913. It stayed in Labor for a long time, by now as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, until World War II, when it was moved to Justice, where it remained until the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

The Departments of Labor and Justice have both retained smallish, but important functions within the overall management of international migration.

The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) runs the federal-state employment service and the training programs for Labor, and it is within this entity that the Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) operates. It works on two sets of migration-management decisions.

As to permanent residents, it makes the first round of decisions on applications filed by employers for various classes of workers the employers say they need; these decisions then need to be ratified by officials at DHS and State before the worker (and his or her dependents) can enter the country. In 2008 some 166,511 immigrants were admitted in this broad category, for which there are a complex set of numerical limits.

Regarding temporary workers, where there is no over-arching numerical limits, but some on some subclasses of these workers, Labor again makes the initial set of decisions for several visa classes, including the highly controversial H-1BA program for high-tech workers, and the somewhat less controversial H-1C (nurses, a tiny program), H-2A (farmworkers), H-2C (other unskilled workers), and D-1 (maritime crewmembers). The total admissions in this set of programs, excluding some accompanying dependents, was 692,666 in 2008. (These are counts of acts, admissions, not of persons; some persons are admitted several times in a year; others are admitted only once in a period of several years. That DHS has not yet figured a way to avoid this statistical problem is one of the lesser problems in migration management.)

The newly appointed Assistant Secretary for ETA is Jane Oates, who had previously worked in senior advisory positions with New Jersey Gov. Jon S. Corzine and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, handling education and workforce assignments. OLFC is headed by Dr. William Carlson, a civil servant.

The two immigration-related functions retained by the Department of Justice are the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), and the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL) within the Civil Division.

EOIR is the umbrella agency for the immigration judges, who play the role of administrative law judges handling individual appeals from DHS decisions; this sometimes involves, in cases when the aliens win, the granting of certain migration management benefits, such as green card status and the suspension of deportation. Appeals from these judges go, initially, to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which is also administered by EOIR, and, for a few to the federal courts.

The Office of Immigration Litigation supplies and supervises the lawyers who represent the federal government before the immigration judges, before BIA, and before the courts.

EOIR's Acting Director, a civil servant and former chief immigration judge, is Thomas G. Snow, while the director of OIL is Thomas W. Hussey, a career attorney at Justice and former deputy director of the same office, who was promoted to his current post in the 1990s.

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