The Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) was first made law in 1952. Prior to the INA, several immigration laws existed, but they were not compiled in one location in the United States Code. In 1952, immigration laws were gathered, updated, and organized to form the INA. The INA is contained within Title 8 of the U.S. Code, but it is also considered to be a stand-alone body of law.
The INA is divided into five “titles,” all of which have subdivisions called “chapters.” Title I includes basic provisions such as definitions of terms used in the INA and basic powers of immigration-related officials. Title II sets forth the basic provisions for entry into the United States as an immigrant or non-immigrant. Its chapters cover the following subjects:
qualifications for admission of aliens and travel control of citizens and aliens;
issuance of entry documents;
inspection, apprehension, examination, exclusion, and removal;
adjustment of status;
special provisions relating to alien crewmen;
registration of aliens;
general penalty provisions; and
Title III covers nationality, which refers to the process of obtaining United States citizenship. It discusses who is a citizen by birth, eligibility and requirements for citizenship of nationals of countries other than the United States at birth, and ways that a person can lose the right to citizenship, among other things. Title IV covers miscellaneous topics, including the effective date of the INA and provisions dealing with refugee assistance. Finally, Title V deals with alien terrorist removal procedures.
The INA is continually updated on the basis of legislation that specifically amends the INA. In the last two decades, there have been several important amending acts. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 targeted the prevention of illegal immigration, contained provisions regarding sanctions for employers who knowingly hired undocumented workers, and provided for increased border control, among other things. The Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 included provisions regarding marriage fraud, which occurs when an alien marries a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident solely for purpose of obtaining his or her own green card. The Immigration Act of 1990 changed the number of immigrants to the United States and changed the preference system for admitting immigrants. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 contained provisions concerning the removal of alien terrorists, the exclusion of members and representatives of terrorist organizations from the United States, modifications to asylum procedures, and criminal alien procedural improvements. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 included sweeping changes that were much more restrictive than prior immigration law. Most recently, the Homeland Security Act of 2002 mandated a complete reorganization of the government structure that provides immigration services and immigration enforcement. Primarily, it abolished Immigration and Naturalization Services (the INS) and transferred those functions to various other government agencies, including U.S. Customs and Immigration Services, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Homeland Security.