We often talk about “immigration,” as though it is one big entity. But in reality, it is a series of agencies across a number of different branches of government.
There are three different branches of government that handle immigration issues: the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Department of State
All US Embassies and Consulates are housed within the Department of State. They handle applications made by folks who want to come visit, study, or work in the US!
The Department of Justice
The Department of Justice houses the Executive Office of Immigration Review, more commonly known as the immigration court system. The immigration court system includes both the immigration courts and an appellate body, known as the Board of Immigration Appeals.
The Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security has three separate agencies that handle immigration matters.
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, or USCIS. USCIS processes most immigration applications, including applications for green cards, naturalization, and asylum.
- Customs and Border Patrol, or CBP. CBP is the immigration enforcement agency that serves the US Border. If you’ve ever gone through customs after international travel, you’ve met with a CBP officer.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. ICE is the immigration enforcement agency that serves the interior. When we read about immigration raids, we’re reading about ICE action.
While some cases are handled entirely by one branch of government, others will require the involvement of multiple branches. For example, a US Citizen might petition for their relative, who will then apply for an immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate abroad. The US Citizen’s petition is handled by USCIS, and the relative’s immigrant visa application is handled by the Department of State!