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Immigration :  i-mə-grā-shən  verb:  to enter and usually become established; especially : to come into a country of which one is not a native for permanent residence.  (Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary. ed. 2009.)

Many view the United States of America as the “Great Melting Pot”; the land of opportunity where dreams can come true for those willing to work hard.  For centuries, citizens of other nations have been migrating here hoping to get their own slice of the American pie.  Originally, just about anyone who wanted was free to move here, but as the nation’s population has exploded, immigration law has had to evolve to try and curb that rising tide in order to maintain the nation’s resources for its own legal citizens.  In Pennsylvania, lawyers can assist citizens of other countries in their quest to enter the United States, whether temporarily or permanently.

In the U.S., federal immigration law governs whether or not people are considered aliens and the rights, duties, and obligations associated with being an alien in this country.  It also dictates which aliens gain residence or citizenship within the United States.  Of course, most aliens coming to the U.S. on a long-term basis are hoping to become legally naturalized citizens with full rights of citizenship, something many Pennsylvania lawyers have experience handling.  At all levels, immigration law provides a gate-keeping service for the nation’s border, determining which aliens may enter the country, how long they can stay, and when they must leave.

Congress has ultimate authority over immigration.  At the executive level, the President only has control over refugee policy.  Other than ruling on aliens’ constitutional rights, the courts typically find the immigration issue nonjusticiable.  States do have some limited legislative authority regarding immigration according to 28 U.S.C. § 1251.  Pennsylvania lawyers can advise clients of the federal sentencing guidelines for those entering the country illegally set out in 28 U.S.C. § 994.

Formerly, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (the “INS“) was responsible for overseeing and enforcing immigration law in the U.S.  In Pennsylvania, lawyers often dealt with the INS on behalf of companies employing aliens on a long-term basis.  As of March 1, 2003, however, the Department of Homeland Security replaced the INS.  Within the Department, three different agencies co-exist:  the U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement (CBE), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The CBE oversees border patrol duties, the USCIS oversees naturalization, asylum, and permanent residence functions, and the ICE oversees deportation, intelligence, and investigatory functions.

The Refugee Act of 1980 sets out U.S. and Pennsylvania law relating to refugee immigrants.   Under the Refugee Act, the term “refugee” means those aliens with a fear of persecution upon returning to their homelands, stemming from their religion, race, nationality, membership in certain social groups, or political opinions.  Under both federal and Pennsylvania law, the government generally refuses to grant refugee status to applications previously convicted of murder.   Those refugees who have “firmly resettled” in another country will be denied a request for refugee admission to the U.S.  A refugee is considered “firmly resettled” in cases where the refugee has received an offer of citizenship, permanent residency, or some other permanent status from a foreign country.

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