What is Immigration Law Enforcement?

Ken Black

Immigration law enforcement refers to the processes and personnel involved in enforcing a nation's immigration laws. The two main components are the enforcement agents, who try to prevent or apprehend people crossing into a country illegally, and the court system that prosecutes and determines the penalty for such individuals. The individuals working in this area of law enforcement may be sworn officers, or attorneys hired by a government to prosecute such cases. Most of those involved in immigration law enforcement have special training to handle very difficult circumstances.

Stowaways who enter a country illegally often hide on cargo ships.
Stowaways who enter a country illegally often hide on cargo ships.

Among the most visible portions of immigration law enforcement are border patrol and customs agents. In the United States, these are found at all border crossings, and also patrol various portions of the border that are not traditional crossings, especially the border shared with Mexico. In Europe, agents used to be stationed at the crossing between every country, but the European Union has now allowed for less restrictive travel between many of those countries. Still other agents work further from the borders, and are responsible for tracking down those who have overstayed visas, or otherwise violated the conditions of their immigration status.

In the United States, customs agents are stationed at all border crossings.
In the United States, customs agents are stationed at all border crossings.

Some immigration law enforcement personnel guard and protect seaports. There, they have the task of looking not only for illegal contraband, but stowaways who may be trying to enter a country illegally. Seaports can be very busy places for immigration law enforcement simply because of the amount of containers and cargo ships that come in on a daily basis. If the port also handles cruise or passenger ships, that adds another element to the job.

Border patrol agents are an important part of immigration law enforcement.
Border patrol agents are an important part of immigration law enforcement.

For those caught crossing the border, there could be a chance they are returned to their country almost immediately, bypassing much of the court system. For those who have been in the country a while, they may have the opportunity to go to a court, which is also part of the immigration law enforcement system. Personnel who make up an immigration court include judges, prosecutors, and administrative personnel.

Judges in the immigration court system may be specialized, only working cases that involve immigration matters. Others associated with the court, both attorneys and court administrators, may have other duties in the court or law enforcement system. This likely depends on the individual country, and how busy a particular court is with immigration issues. The court has the power to hold, imprison, or deport those found in violation of immigration laws, though in some cases it may also have the power to offer clemency to refugees or others seeking political asylum.

Judges in the immigration court system may only work cases that involve immigration matters.
Judges in the immigration court system may only work cases that involve immigration matters.

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