The immigration laws control who can come to the United States and who is allowed to stay after coming here. The immigration laws allow certain people to come here temporarily, and the immigration laws allow certain people to come here permanently. The immigration laws also control who is entitled to be naturalized as a citizen of the United States. Immigration law can be very complicated. Immigration laws and regulations change frequently. The cases that affect the interpretation of immigration statutes and regulations change fairly often. Please consult with an immigration attorney if you have questions about an immigration case.
Several federal agencies control immigration law issues. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has three agencies that control the immigration law. They are: Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The U.S. Department of State controls the U.S. consulates throughout the world, and the consulate staff makes the decisions on who can come to the U.S. temporarily or permanently for the people who go to their particular consulate. The immigration courts and immigration judges are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Justice. Depending on the status of your case or the type of benefit you are trying to apply for, your case could be involved with one or several of these government groups.
Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) offers automated and live assistance for immigration inquiries. A series of topics in English and Spanish is available, which give a general explanation about immigration law. You can use this service by calling (800) 375-5283, using a touch-tone telephone. The service begins with a brief recorded announcement. The announcement will give you a list of the topics and the telephone extension numbers you must dial to listen to the topics that interest you.
Because immigration law changes frequently, the recorded telephone information may not always be completely up-to-date. You are more likely to obtain current information if you speak with one of the CIS information officers or use the CIS website.
If you would like to speak with a CIS information officer you can schedule an appointment through the Infopass program. One can schedule an Infopass appointment online at www.uscis.gov. Certain nonprofit organizations also have the ability to schedule Infopass appointments. There is very useful information — including immigration forms to download — from the CIS website at www.uscis.gov.
The federal agency in charge of enforcing, arresting and jailing individuals with immigration violations is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. If you are helping someone, or in need of information concerning someone who is in custody of ICE or who has an ICE hold in Oregon, you can contact the ICE office in Portland, Ore. The regional office for ICE is located in Seattle. The website for ICE is located at www.ice.gov.
Immigration detainees from Oregon who are in ICE custody will eventually be housed in the facility known as the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash. Immigration detainees from Oregon are held in local jails in Oregon for a short period of time. As soon as ICE can make space available at the Northwest Detention Center, the detainees are immediately transferred to Tacoma. To inquire about detained individuals, you may call the Northwest Detention Center at (253) 779-6000. You will likely need the person’s alien number (or “A Number”) to obtain information.
If a person’s case is before the immigration court, the hearing will be in front of an immigration judge who is independent from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Immigration Court is controlled by the U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review. Everyone who has a case scheduled before an immigration judge is assigned an alien number. When contacting the immigration court about someone’s case, it is very useful to have the “A Number” when making the call. You can obtain information about upcoming hearing dates or prior immigration judge decisions by calling (800)-898-7180.
DHS and its agencies, CIS, ICE and CBP, all have some leeway or “prosecutorial discretion” in deciding what actions to take. This means that even in cases where persons are otherwise deportable or removable from the country, DHS and its agencies can decline to pursue removal or deportation where discretion would warrant. Prosecutorial discretion can be exercised by DHS on its own, or an attorney or individual can request prosecutorial discretion. For all these reasons, it may be helpful to contact an immigration attorney about your case.
The U.S. Department of State operates consulates and embassies around the world. If someone needs a case processed through a foreign country, then it is necessary to work with a U.S. consulate or embassy in the foreign country that is handling the case. The State Department’s Visa Office in Washington, D.C., has recorded topics that provide information for people who want to apply for a temporary or permanent visa. The State Department’s website provides information at www.state.gov.
Certain laws exist to protect people who have been victims of domestic violence or other designated crimes in the U.S. If you do not have immigration status in the U.S. but you are a battered spouse, child or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident you may file an immigrant visa petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). If you were the victim of domestic violence or other designated crime by a person with or without status in the U.S. you may qualify for a U Visa under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPRA) of 2000. To qualify for a U Visa you must have been the victim of a designated crime. You must show that you possess information about the crime and must help with the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. You must show the criminal activity violated a U.S. law and occurred in the United States or its territories. Finally, you must show that you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as the result of the crime. Ten thousand U Visas are issued annually. If you are granted the U Visa you are given non-immigrant status and a work permit for four years. You may then apply for lawful permanent residency after three years of valid U Visa status.
If you arrived in the U.S. before age 16, were under age 31 as of June 15, 2012, and meet certain other criteria, you may file for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This will allow you to stay in the U.S. legally (though without permanent resident status) and may enable you to obtain work authorization and a Social Security number.
Federal immigration laws now treat same-sex marriages the same as heterosexual marriage. Accordingly, any immigration benefits available to heterosexual couples are now also available to same-sex married couples.
Legal editor: Jonathan C. “JJ” Gonzales, July 2013