Immigration Law: Statutes vs. Regulations vs. Memos

Immigration Law - Statutes vs Regulations vs Memos

Immigration law can be challenging to understand, particularly for someone with a foreign background. Nowadays, there are plenty of resources available for immigrants – videos, articles and the statutes & regulations themselves. But how can you ensure that what you’re reading is the government’s interpretation of a law, and not just an opinion? Let’s take a closer look at statutes VS regulations VS memos in immigration law.

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Immigration Statutes – These are laws passed by a legislature, usually Congress.

A statute is a law passed by a legislature. Statutes can also be called acts – for example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Immigration and Nationality Act. Federal laws must pass through Congress, namely the Senate and House of Representatives, before being approved by the president. After the president’s approval they can take effect. Some statutes can be challenged in court, if deemed unconstitutional in their written form or through the way they are applied by the Government.

Immigration Regulations – These are rules that state how the government will apply statutes or acts

A regulation is an official rule written by a governmental agency. Some administrative agencies have an authority to control conduct within their areas of responsibility. For example, agencies such as the USCIS have legislative power to create and apply regulations, based on certain acts or statutes.

To put it simply, regulations are another set of rules that derive from a certain piece of legislation. While legislation or statutes provide the general law, regulations add the specific ways in which the law is interpreted and applied. Regulations have the same legal weight as laws.    

All regulations are published in the Federal Register under a different code, section, or chapter. Most regulations related to immigration can be found in chapters eight, twenty and twenty-two of the Code of Federal Regulations. These stand for the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Labor and Department of State, respectively.

As with acts or statutes, regulations may be challenged in court if they are unconstitutional.

Immigration Law Policy Memos – These are announcements from different Government agencies that set their own policies and provide guidelines on how they will apply different acts and regulations

Policy memos usually need to pass through multiple reviews and revisions by legal teams before being released to the public. The agencies themselves cannot create new laws, rights or obligations through memos. Policy memos do not have legal weight or the force of law but serve as additional guidelines for different regulations.

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