Understanding Immigration Laws
Regulating Immigration to the United States
Before September 2002, the agency that was charged with overseeing immigration issues was the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). In September 2002, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Homeland Security Act, transferring the powers of the INS to the Department of Homeland Security. The enforcement powers of the INS are now with the Directorate of Border and Transportation Security. The immigration service functions of the INS are now under the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Both of these agencies are within the new Department for Homeland Security.
What is an "Alien?"
An alien is an individual born in a foreign country, who has not been naturalized (made a U.S. citizen), and is still a subject of that foreign country. An alien is also sometimes referred to as an immigrant.
Immigrant visas are for individuals who wish to live in the United States on a permanent basis. A primary example of an immigrant visa is a green card. Learn more about permanent visas / green card.
Nonimmigrant visas are available to people coming to the United States for a short-term visit. Nonimmigrant visas are commonly given to many groups, including:
- Business people
Applying for a Visa
If you are coming from most countries, specifically those not participating in the visa waiver program, you must get a visa before you leave your country. Generally, your country should have a U.S. consulate where you can begin the visa process. Be sure to begin the process of applying for a visa well in advance of your anticipated travel date. Also note, if you are coming from certain countries, the consulate will require that you prove that you have sufficient funds to finance your stay in the U.S.
Questioning, Interrogation and Being Sent Back
When you arrive at the border, or even before you depart, the United States officials will likely question you. If you do not answer their questions to their liking, they can and will require you to return to your home country, i.e. deportation. Keep all documents, and make certain your answers are consistent with your type of visa. Be prepared for searches of your belongings.
For What Reasons Can the BCIS Deny Me Entry?
If the BCIS determines that you are inadmissible for immigration, they can deny you entry into the United States. Inadmissibility is usually determined if you have a certain mental or physical disorder, have been convicted of certain crimes, or have engaged in subversive activity. The BCIS can deny immigration entry based on inadmissibility of people applying for green cards or any type of temporary visa. The BCIS can also deny entry based on inadmissibility of permanent residents who depart the United States for more than 180 days.
Should I Consult an Immigration Attorney for my Immigration Issue?
An immigration attorney can help you prepare for your entrance, and ensure you are not turned away at the border. An immigration attorney can also help you with the BCIS's detailed procedural rules when applying for a visa or green card.
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Last Modified: 09-29-2011 02:20 PM PDT