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Where Can I Find Immigration Law?
With so many sources of information on immigration law on the web, it is extremely important to verify that the information is accurate and that the source of the information is reliable. Most of the information found online or elsewhere may be incorrect or outdated because immigration law is complex and constantly changing. Many online immigration services, as well as services offered by local unaccredited businesses, claim to offer immigration services and advice at a “good price.” However, because immigration law is so complex, following the advice offered by unaccredited “notarios” (online or in person), is likely to result in undesired results, possibly making the situation worse.
When faced with an immigration law question or problem, it is best to consult with a licensed and experienced attorney who specializes in immigration law. As the list below will show, there is no single source of immigration law. Only a licensed attorney can access all sources of immigration law to stay up-to-date on all the new developments of immigration law. To show how complex immigration law can be, we have put together a brief summary of the sources where immigration law “comes from.”
- The U.S. Constitution
The Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.” Case law (explained below) has consistently interpreted the Constitution to give Congress unlimited power (known as “plenary power”) to regulate immigration law. Essentially, the Constitution allows Congress to decide who should be allowed to immigrate to the United States and who should be deported.
- The Immigration and Nationality Act
The most important set of laws passed by congress related to immigration is the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA is the fundamental source of authority on immigration law in the U.S. The original version of the INA was implemented in 1952-but since then- it has been revised multiple times. Congress has passed additional acts that have altered, deleted, or added additional sections to the INA. Therefore it is important to make sure that you are reading the most up-to-date version of the INA.
- Agency Regulations
The job of the federal agencies is to carry out the laws created by Congress, under the direction of the President of the United States. Governmental agencies (such as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) interpret the immigration laws created by congress. Based on the agency interpretations, the agency issues regulations that become “immigration rules.” These immigration rules clarify the immigration laws created by the U.S. Congress.
Whereas the INA provides the text of the laws created by Congress, the agency rules provide the details and explain how the particular agency will apply the applicable laws.
Most of these rules are collected under Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
- Cases (case law)
Case law is the interpretation of the laws created by Congress by the various courts that handle cases related to immigration law. It is important to know that the decisions by the courts have an effect on the laws that regulate immigration. Decisions by the courts handling immigration cases can have the same weight of legal authority as the laws created by Congress. There are a number of factors that affect whether a decision by a court in a particular case has significant weight as legal authority or no authority at all.
Because these court decisions can have as much impact on the outcome of a particular case as the law created by Congress itself, it is not enough to read and know the law applicable to a particular case. An experienced attorney would be able to determine if there is applicable case law that may have an effect on the outcome of a particular case.
- Internal Agency Operation Instructions
In addition to agency regulations (explained above), federal agencies create internal operation instructions to instruct the agency employees on how to carry out the agency’s procedures. These operating instructions provide a higher level of detail on the regulations. The instructions may be give a more liberal—and sometimes a more restrictive—interpretation of the regulation. Additionally, because these “instructions” guide agency employees on how to perform the agency duties, the internal agency instructions act as legal authority. Knowing these instructions is sometimes critical to understanding the outcome of a particular case.
Some of these instructions are published and available online. For example, the Foreign Affairs Manual of the Department of State and the USCIS Policy Manual.
- Informal Agency Guidance
Finally, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) representatives hold regular meetings with attorneys from the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). AILA attorneys, therefore, get powerful insight into specific agency policies and procedures. All Puget Sound Legal attorneys are members of AILA.
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