INS, BCIS, USCIS, ICE and Homeland Security: Who is who?

There are many agencies involved in the processing and monitoring of new arrivals and immigrants to the US. These agencies are generally tasked with helping to facilitate immigration while also creating a safer environment for immigrants and US residents alike. However, each agency involved in US immigration also has its own specific mission. If you have been filling out immigration forms or have been trying to immigrate into the US, you have likely encountered the names of various US agencies. Knowing these agencies and what they do can help ensure that your immigration process goes more smoothly, because you will know where to turn when you need help.

The INS (United States Immigration and Naturalization Service) was the main body overseeing immigration between 1933 and 2003, when the agency was dissolved. While INS is no longer in place, the USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security do many of the tasks which the INS once did. The INS used to take care of tasks such as immigration services, asylum applications, naturalization, permanent residence applications, as well as enforcement of immigration policies. After the attacks of September 2011, however, changes were made to improve immigration security and one result of this is that the INS was dissolved.

The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) was a new agency created after the INS was dissolved. The agency was tasked with overseeing the application process for immigration, asylum, naturalization, and other related services. Unlike the INS, the BCIS was never responsible for enforcement, investigation, or policing immigration-related matters.

Very soon after the BCIS was established it was renamed the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services), an agency that still exists today. The USCIS is a part of the United States Department of Homeland Security, and its task to take care of the immigration administrative tasks once overseen by the INS and the BCIS. Most immigrants deal primarily with the USCIS when applying for immigration status, visas, and when filing other petitions.

Another important organization in US immigration is the ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This organization is also part of the Department of Homeland Security and it is a federal law enforcement group. The role of the ICE is to investigate and address any issues related to the security of the US’s borders, transportation systems, and infrastructure. There are also ICE officials at US embassies around the world to safeguard US security all over the globe.

Homeland Security is a general term which can be used to describe all the efforts of the US to protect its lands and its peoples. However, the term is also sometimes used as a short form of the United States Department of Homeland Security, an agency created after the attacks of 2011 to oversee national security as well as US immigration.