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Immigration Law Research

Recommended research strategies and sources for immigration law.

Statutory Law

Statutes

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 ("INA") consolidated the various immigration laws of the United States and provided the foundation for immigration law today. Since 1952, the INA has been amended multiple times, and Congress has passed various other statutes to address ongoing immigration law concerns. For example, the Refugee Act of 1980 broadened the definition of refugees and brought the United States into compliance with international definitions, and the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ("IRCA") focused almost exclusively on illegal immigration. 

Most of these statutes have been codified in the United States Code at Title 8 - Aliens & Nationality. The following resources can be used to access this and other parts of the United States Code:

Office of the Law Revision Counsel

The Office of the Law Revision Counsel provides online access to the most updated version of the U.S. Code. Its website allows for both keyword searching and browsing within the various titles of the U.S. Code and can be access via this link.

GovInfo

GovInfo is a service of the United States Government Printing Office, and it provides free public access to official publicatons from all three branches of the federal government. GovInfo allows users to search by keyword and to browse through the U.S. Code. Note that the U.S. Code is available both in HTML and PDF formats. 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The USCIS website provides free online access to the text of the INA, and it also provides a list of public laws amending the INA between the 99th and 113th Congresses (roughly 1986-2013).

Annotated Versions of the United States Code

UNC Law faculty and students can access annotated versions of the U.S. Code through their law database subscriptions. Annotated codes are useful for legal research because they direct you to other related content, including regulations and case law. Use the links below to jump to immediately to Title 8:

  • Westlaw - Westlaw's United States Code Annotated
    • Westlaw also provides access to immigration law resources via its Practitioner Insights for Immigration page. You will see direct links to statutes, cases, regulations, and other helpful administrative materials.
  • Lexis+ - Lexis+ United States Code Service
    • Note: If you are not a UNC Law student or faculty member, but you are affiliated with UNC, you can access the USCS through Nexis Uni.

Federal Legislative History

Legislative history can be used to gain a better understanding of Congressional intent for specific legislation. The following resources can be used to track down legislative history materials connected to important pieces of federal immigration law.

HeinOnline's Immigration Law & Policy Database - Acts & Legislative Histories

HeinOnline's Immigration Law & Policy database provides access to a variety of resources addressing immigration law topics. In the "Acts & Legislative Histories" section, you can view compiled legislative histories for various immigration laws organized by public law number and popular name. (Access limited to UNC community.)

ProQuest Congressional - Legislative Insight

ProQuest Congressional's Legislative Insight database provides access to compiled federal legislative histories. While you can access these histories using keyword searches, the easiest way to access a compiled legislative history is through the use of a citation to a public law, Statutes at Large, or the enacted bill number. This database also permits in-text searching of documents in compiled legislative histories, so that you can easily search across documents to identify relevant material. (Access limited to UNC Community.)

Free Online Resources
  • Congress.gov - Congress.gov offers free access to legislative information, including public laws and congressional bills, House and Senate reports, the Congressional Record, and bill status/summary information. You can search through these materials using keyword searches, but it is typically most effective to search using a specific citation or name of a piece of legislation. Note that many of these collections are only available from 1995-present.
  • GovInfo - GovInfo, maintained by the Government Printing Office, provides users with access to a variety of legislative history materials, including the Congressional Record, public laws, the Statutes at Large, Congressional committee prints, Congressional documents, and Congressional hearings records. While you can search through these materials using keyword searches, it is usually easiest to locate materials with a citation to a specific immigration law and the relevant year in which the legislation was passed. Note that many of these collections are only available from 1995-present.

Regulatory Law

Regulations

Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR") contains those regulations relating to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services ("USCIS"), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP"), the Executive Office for Immigration Review, and the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA"). The following resources provide access to the CFR:

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR)

The e-CFR is the most up-to-date version of the CFR available, and the website updates on a daily basis. Note, however, that this is not the official version of the CFR.

GovInfo

GovInfo is a service of the United States Government Printing Office, and it provides free public access to official publicatons from all three branches of the federal government. GovInfo allows users to search by keyword and to browse through the Code of Federal Regulations. Note that the CFR is available both in HTML and PDF formats. You can access the Title 8 of the CFR at this link.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The USCIS website provides free online access to the text of Title 8 of the CFR, and it also lists other regulations addressing immigration, including Title 22 and Title 6. Note that the links on the USCIS website take you to the e-CFR.

HeinOnline

HeinOnline's Code of Federal Regulations Library is a comprehensive collection of all published editions of the CFR. This resource is particularly useful for those researchers who need to viewed scanned originals of earlier editions of the CFR. (Access limited to UNC community.)

Legal Databases

UNC Law faculty and students can also access the current and some historical versions of the CFR through their Westlaw and Lexis accounts. These annotated versions of the CFR can be useful to use because of the added features, including citing references to other primary law materials and recommended secondary sources. (Access limited to UNC Law faculty and students.)

Federal Register

The Federal Register is the official gazette of the United States government, and it provides legal notice of administrative rules and notices on a daily basis. In addition to publishing final regulations in the Federal Register, agencies will also publish proposed rules for new regulations and offer the public an opportunity to comment on those proposed rules.

The Federal Register is conveniently organized by agency, so tracking the activity of specific federal agencies is easy. In addition, the CFR Index contains the List of CFR Sections Affected that allows users to identify if changes have been made to specific regulations. The following resources provide access to the Federal Register:

Federal Register Website

FederalRegister.gov is the online government platform for the Federal Register and provides multiple search options. In addition to keyword searches, you can also search via topical area or by specific agency. Moreover, this website provides access to the public comment features that allow interested parties to comment on proposed rules, and you can view the comments of others as well. 

GovInfo

GovInfo is a service of the United States Government Printing Office, and it provides free public access to official publications from all three branches of the federal government. GovInfo provides access to the Federal Register, the Federal Register Index, and the List of CFR Sections Affected. The Federal Register collection through GovInfo is also historically complete, with access to the Federal Register.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

The USCIS website contains an Announcements page that allows you to search the latest USCIS and DHS Federal Register announcements organized by publication dates. There is also an option to "Get Updates by Email" from the USCIS related to the Federal Register announcements.

HeinOnline

HeinOnline's Federal Register Library is a comprehensive collection of all published editions of the Federal Register. This resource is particularly useful for those researchers who need to viewed scanned originals of earlier editions of the Federal Register. (Access limited to UNC community.)

Legal Databases

UNC Law faculty and students can also access the current and some historical versions of the Federal Register through their Westlaw and Lexis accounts. (Access limited to UNC Law faculty and students.)

Administrative Decisions

Administrative Decisions

Board of Immigration Appeals

Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. The BIA has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals from certain decisions rendered by immigration judges and by district directors of the Department of Homeland Security. Most BIA decisions are subject to judicial review in the federal courts.

BIA decisions designated for publication are printed in bound volumes entitled Administrative Decisions Under Immigration and Nationality Laws of the United States. These decisions can be viewed at the following locations: 

  • Board of Immigration Appeals Website - The Executive Office for Immigration Review's current website provides access to BIA decisions from Volumes 8-27 and is the updated source for this reporter.
  • Executive Office for Immigration Review's Virtual Law Library - This is an archived website that provides access to the BIA decisions from Volumes 10-23.  
  • UNC Law Library - The bound volumes of Administrative Decisions Under Immigration and Nationality Laws of the United States are available in print at the UNC Law Library (Vol. 1-24).
  • LLMC Digital - Scanned PDFs of the original reporters are available through LLMC Digital. The database currently holds Volumes 1-23. (Available to UNC Community.)
  • HeinOnline's BIA Precedent Decisions - HeinOnline's database provides access to BIA decisions organized by topic. (Available to UNC Community.)
  • Legal Databases - BIA Decisions are also available via Westlaw and Lexis. (Available to UNC Law faculty and students.)
    • Note: Lexis+ provides access to both precedent and non-precedent decisions from the BIA.

Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer

The Office of the Chief Administrative Hearing Officer ("OCAHO") has jurisdiction over three types of cases arising under the INA which are outlined on the OCAHO's website. These cases typically deal with immigration fraud in employment practices.

Decisions are available in bound volumes entitled Administrative Decisions Under Employer Sanctions, Unfair Immigration-Related Employment Practices and Civil Penalty Document Fraud Laws of the United States. A topical index to all decisions published in these volumes is available on the OCAHO website near the top of the homepage.These decisions can be viewed at the following locations:

  • OCAHO Website - Provides access to Volumes 1-13 (1988-2013). 
  • UNC Law Library - Volumes 1-3 are available in print at the UNC Law Library (1988-2018).
  • HeinOnline - Provides access to Volumes 1-13 (1988-2018). (Available to UNC Community.)
  • Legal Databases - OCAHO decisions are also available via Westlaw and Lexis. (Available to UNC Law faculty and students.)

USCIS Administrative Appeals Office

The USCIS Administrative Appeals Office ("AAO") handles appeals from immigration benefits cases. They conduct administrative review of decisions to ensure consistency and accuracy in the interpretation of immigration law and policy. This administrative body generally issues "non-precedent" decisions, while some decisions are occasionally adopted as "precedent" decisions after review by the Attorney General.

All decisions issued by the AAO, including both precedent and non-precedent decisions, are available via the agency's website.

UNC Law faculty and students can search through these decisions via either Westlaw or Lexis. (Available to UNC Law faculty and students.)

Judicial Opinions

Judicial Decisions

Many administrative hearing decisions are appealable to the federal court of appeals for the pertinent circuit. To search appellate cases, try the following strategies:

  • Westlaw - Use the West Key Number System to identify relevant cases based on Topic 24 - Aliens, Immigration, and Citizenship. Within this general topic number, there are multiple subtopics dealing with various aspects of immigration law. (Available to UNC Law faculty and students.)
  • Lexis - Access relevant material through the Browse feature in the upper left-hand corner of the homepage. Browse - Topics - Immigration Law to view various options for searching in case law. Once inside a relevant case, be sure to review the Head Notes to identify similar cases. (Available to UNC Law faculty and students.)