1) US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Homeland Security combines the resources of several federal, state and local agencies into a single, integrated agency focused on protecting the American people and their homeland. More than 87,000 different governmental departments at the federal, state, and local level have homeland security responsibilities.
- US Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS– Responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization court functions and establishing the policies and priorities of immigration related services.
- Administrative Appeals Office or AAO– Should a petition or application be denied or revoked by the USCIS, in most cases it is possible to appeal that decision to a higher authority. The AAO has oversees the appeals of over 40 different petitions and applications (see list below).
- Customs and Border Protection or CBP– Responsible for protecting our nation’s borders in order to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States, while aiding the flow of legitimate trade and travel.
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE– Largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is responsible for identifying and shutting down vulnerabilities in the nation’s borders, specifically those having to do with the economy, transportation and infrastructure.
2) Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR)
The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) was created on January 9, 1983 through an internal Department of Justice (DOJ) reorganization which combined the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board) with the Immigration Judge function previously performed by the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) (now part of the Department of Homeland Security). Besides establishing EOIR as a separate agency within DOJ, this reorganization made the Immigration Courts independent of INS, the agency charged with enforcement of Federal immigration laws, much like national court of laws are separate from local and federal police departments The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer (OCAHO) was added in 1987.
EOIR is also separate from the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices in the DOJ Civil Rights Division and the Office of Immigration Litigation in the DOJ Civil Division.
- Immigration Courts
The Office of the Chief Immigration Judge (OCIJ) provides overall program direction, establishes policies and procedures, and sets priorities for more than 200 Immigration Judges located in 54 Immigration Courts throughout the Nation. The Chief Immigration Judge carries out these responsibilities with the assistance and support of two Deputy Chief Immigration Judges and 10 Assistant Chief Immigration Judges.
Immigration Judges are responsible for conducting formal court proceedings, and act independently in deciding the matters before them. Their decisions are final unless appealed or certified to the Board of Immigration Appeals. In removal proceedings, Immigration Judges determine whether an individual from a foreign country (an alien) should be allowed to enter or remain in the United States. They also have the power to consider various forms of relief from removal. In a typical removal proceeding, the Immigration Judge may decide whether an alien is deportable or inadmissible under the law, then may consider whether that alien may avoid forced removal by accepting voluntary departure or by qualifying for asylum, cancellation of removal, adjustment status, protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, or other forms of relief.
Many removal proceedings are conducted in prisons and jails as part of an initiative called the Criminal Alien Institutional Hearing Program. In coordination with Department of Homeland Security and correctional authorities in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, selected municipalities, and Federal Bureau of Prison facilities, Immigration Judges conduct on-site hearings to rule on, the immigration status of aliens while they are serving sentences for criminal convictions.
- Board of Immigration Appeals
The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA or Board) is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. It is composed of 11 Board Members, including the Chairman and Vice Chairman who share responsibility for Board management. The Board is located at EOIR headquarters in Falls Church, Virginia. Generally, the Board does not conduct courtroom proceedings – it decides appeals by conducting a “paper review” of cases. On rare occasions, however, the Board does hear oral arguments of appealed cases, almost always at their headquarters.
The Board has been given nationwide power to hear appeals from certain decisions made by Immigration Judges and by District Directors of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a wide variety of proceedings in which the Government of the United States is one party and the other party is either an alien, a citizen, or a business firm. In addition, the Board is responsible for the recognition of organizations and accreditation of representatives requesting permission to practice before DHS, the Immigration Courts, and the Board.
Decisions of the Board are binding on all DHS officers and Immigration Judges unless modified or overruled by the Attorney General or a Federal court. All Board decisions are subject to judicial review in the Federal courts. The majority of appeals reaching the Board involve orders of removal and applications for relief from removal. Other cases before the Board include the exclusion of aliens applying for admission to the United States, petitions to classify the status of alien relatives for the issuance of preference immigrant visas, fines imposed upon carriers for the violation of immigration laws, and motions for reopening and reconsideration of decisions previously rendered.
The Board is directed to use its independent judgment in hearing appeals for the Attorney General. Board decisions chosen for publication are printed in bound volumes entitled Administrative Decisions Under Immigration and Nationality Laws of the United States.
3) US Court of Appeals
The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.
*The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has jurisdiction over Texas.
4) US Supreme Court
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight, bringing the total current number of justices on the court to nine. Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments must be approved by the Senate. Only cases challenging the constitutionality of a decision by a lower court may be appealed before the Supreme Court.