What Is Immigration Law?

Immigration law is defined as the practice of determining a person’s citizenship and residency status in the United States and accessing the rights and obligations of offered by our country. Including deportation issues, it also deals with issues of non-residents attempting to gain citizenship, extended or permanent residency or visitation rights.

It typically addresses four ideals – to protect refugees and those in danger or risk of life in their home country; unify families; increase foreign in-demand skilled labor and to increase diversity.



Since 2000, legal immigrants to the United States number approximately 1,000,000 per year, of whom about 600,000 are Change of Status who already are in the U.S. Legal immigrants to the United States now are at their highest level ever, at just over 37,000,000 legal immigrants.



Undocumented (sometimes called “illegal”) immigrants living and perhaps working in the United States have some rights under the U.S. Constitution, despite their unlawful immigration status. Aspects of the Constitution that address certain basic human rights apply to everyone, even people without proper documentation.

  • You have the right to remain silent. You may refuse to speak to immigration officers.
  • You have the right to speak to a lawyer. You can simply say, “I need to speak to my attorney.”
  • You don’t have to say anything about where you were born or how you entered the U.S.
  • You may have your lawyer with you if ICE or other law enforcement questions you.
  • You may refuse to sign anything before you talk to a lawyer.
  • You do NOT have to open your door. To legally enter your home, ICE must have a warrant signed by a judge. Do not open your door unless an ICE agent presents a warrant, which they can hold against a window or slide under a door. A valid warrant must have your correct name and address.
  • Always carry with you any valid immigration document you have.



The most common legal issue encountered by would-be immigrants is that they are deemed  inadmissible by USCIS or the consulate. Possible examples include having committed a crime or previously lied to the U.S. government. If you know that any of these grounds apply to you, it makes sense to get legal help before you begin the application process.

  • Avoid lawyers who approach you at USCIS or other immigration offices. This behavior is not considered ethical behavior by the legal bar, and most reputable attorneys do not solicit business in this way.
  • Research the lawyer in the same way you would research a contractor or other specialist, through online investigation and word-of-mouth. The lawyer should be listed as a member of a state bar association and of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), and have earned good reviews on websites like Martindale-Hubbell.
  • Make sure you’re dealing with a real lawyer, not a “visa consultant,” “notario,” or “petition preparer.” Only a legitimate, practicing lawyer should be trusted to handle your immigration matters. Many non-lawyers claim to be capable of assisting those who need help with the immigration process without understanding how complex this area of law really is.
  • Talk to more than one attorney. This will provide some basis for comparison before choosing the one who will represent you. Get a sense of the attorney’s personality and work philosophy to determine if they will be a good fit for you. And you should choose someone with whom you have a good rapport.


U.S. immigration law is very complex, with much confusion as to how it works. The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA), the body of law governing current immigration policy, provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants, with certain exceptions for close family members.

Immigration to the United States is based upon the following principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, protecting refugees, and promoting diversity.

Family-based immigrants are admitted either as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or through the family preference system.

Employment-Based immigration provides for a variety of ways for immigrants with valuable skills to come to the USA either permanently or temporarily. Categories for consideration include:

  • “Persons of extraordinary ability” in the arts, science, education, business, or athletics, and outstanding professors and researchers;
  • Holders of advanced degrees; skilled workers with at least two years of training or experience, professionals with college degrees, or “other” workers for unskilled labor that is not temporary or seasonal;
  • Employees of U.S. foreign service posts, former U.S. government employees and other classes of aliens;
  • And those prepared to invest $500,000 to $1 million in a job-creating enterprise that employs at least 10 full time U.S. workers.


Immigration Law is administered by the US citizenship and Immigrations Services (USCIS). In many circumstances, you will not need the services of a lawyer when applying for an immigrant visa or green card. If you have a straightforward case, are clearly eligible, and have no record of crimes or negative run-ins with immigration authorities, you can potentially proceed all the way to a visa or green card without a lawyer.

There are numerous situation in which you’ll need an immigration lawyer’s help–or will save yourself a lot of time and frustration by getting it.

Consider consulting with an attorney who practices immigration law if:

  • you need emergency help with an immigration matter
  • you are uncertain about your eligibility for a green card or other immigration benefit
  • you are requesting any sort of discretionary relief, such as asylum or a waiver, which involves persuading the immigration authorities to make an exception for you
  • you are finding it difficult to obtain a USCIS green card, citizenship, or other immigration benefit
  • you have been notified that deportation or removal proceedings are being started against you
  • you have been deported from the U.S. and wish to apply to return
  • you have had an immigration application refused or denied
  • you have been convicted of a criminal offense or have committed a criminal offense and are trying to enter the U.S. or protect yourself from removal from the U.S.
  • you are planning to move to the U.S. to work for a U.S. employer and it has not assisted you with the immigration process
  • you have looked into the application process and realized that the number of forms and documents you must prepare is either too confusing or time-consuming to deal with on your own, or
  • you are applying for an investment-based visa.


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Quotes of Wisdom

“Laws are the very bulwarks of liberty; they define every man’s rights, and defend the individual liberties of all men.”

– J.G. Holland

“For there is but one essential justice which cements society, and one law which establishes this justice. This law is right reason, which is the true rule of all commandments and prohibitions. Whoever neglects this law, whether written or unwritten, is necessarily unjust and wicked.”

― Marcus Tullius Cicero, On the Laws

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can stop him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

“The glory of justice and the majesty of law are created not just by the Constitution – nor by the courts – nor by the officers of the law – nor by the lawyers – but by the men and women who constitute our society – who are the protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.”

–Robert Kennedy

“Law is nothing other than a certain ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by the person who has the care of the community.”

–Thomas Aquinas

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