Administrative Soup

Many federal agencies have a hand in immigration administration. These roles include legislative functions, enforcement, and adjudication. This post will describe the structure and explain some of the entities.

Note: This post may become overwhelming. The diagram at the bottom can be deceiving because of its simplicity. Its simplicity is the reason that reason it is helpful.

Two entities sit at the top of the structure. These two bodies are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

Formed in 2003, DHS replaced the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). INS was an entity within the Department of Justice (DOJ). In this respect DHS differs from INS because DHS is separate from DOJ.

DHS consists of entities that are directly involved in immigration administration. These entities are the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Review Service (USCIS), the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO).

Yesterday I explained DHS enforces the nation's immigration laws. In this respect, ICE fulfills a role like the local police. Similar to the enforcement of local and state law by the police, ICE enforces immigration law.

DHS also administers immigration and naturalization benefits. In this respect, DHS is primarily responsible for promulgating regulations, a role similar to the legislative branch of government.

The Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) was carried over from the INS. As noted above, DHS is separate and distinct from DOJ. Consequently AAO, a DHS entity, is not a DOJ entity. AAO is an exception to the general intent to allocate adjudicative duties to DOJ. AAO hears appeals from certain kinds of DHS denials of applications and petitions. These DHS denials may relate to employment-based petitions and non-immigrant visa petitions.

Likewise, many entities within EOIR are directly involved in immigration administration. These entities are the Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), the Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO).

EOIR is responsible for administering Immigration Courts across the country. In furtherance of this duty, the EOIR Director oversees OCIJ, which in turn oversees Immigration Judges (IJ) that hear charges by the government against individual immigrants.

IJs are akin to the trial court judges because both conduct court proceedings and act independently in deciding controversies. IJs resolve controversies by applying INA, federal regulations, and precedent from BIA and federal courts to the facts of each case. BIA is an administrative appellate court that reviews IJ determinations with respect to immigrant residency.

Within EOIR, BIA is the highest appellate court with respect to issues of immigration and nationality. Therefore, BIA jurisdiction extends to all IJs across the country as well as certain DHS decisions. Additionally, BIA establishes the rules of court for the IJs to follow.

Another EOIR branch is the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (OCAHO). OCAHO differs from OCIJ and BIA with respect to its form and function. The previous paragraphs about OCIJ and BIA illustrate a horizontal relationship with respect to their position in EOIR, and a vertical relationship as to adjudication and authority. One factor that makes OCAHO different is its independence. As to form, OCAHO consists of Administrative Law Judges (ALJ). OCAHO ALJs have nothing to do with OCIJ. They hear disputes involving employer sanctions, anti-discrimination, and document fraud under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

A separate DOJ body is the Office of Immigration Litigation (OIL). OIL represents the United State of America in federal court when the subject matter is immigration-related civil trial litigation and appellate matters. Unlike the entities described above, which fall within the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), AAO falls under the DOJ Civil Division.

This diagram illustrates the foregoing explanation as to structure:

|-- ICE
|-- AAO

|-- EOIR
| |-- OCIJ -- IJs
| |-- BIA
| |-- OCAHO
|-- OIL

Of course this structure falls under the Executive branch of the federal government whose head is the President. Nevertheless, this structure and allocation of roles demonstrates an intent to separate the powers (with the exception of AAO) similar to the separation of powers between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of the federal government.