Answered By: Kate Britt
Last Updated: Feb 28, 2022     Views: 8

All agencies and bureaus responsible for administering or enforcing the immigration laws of the United States issue interoffice memoranda. These memos help to educate staff and interested parties about agency policy and procedure. There is no set schedule for the issuance of such memoranda; nor do they carry the authority of law. However, because they provide important insight into agency policy and procedure, they are valuable tools for immigration practitioners. 

On March 1, 2003, the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) was dismantled and separated into three components within the Department of Homeland Security: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Pre-March 1, 2003: Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS)

INS memoranda are informal intra- or inter-office communications sent to INS staff about INS policies and procedures. Although these documents do not have the force of law, many immigration practitioners rely upon them as evidence of INS policy or practice. Some are numbered – e.g., some INS memoranda from the central office have a number that starts with the designation “C.O.” Some INS memoranda have no formal document number or designation, however. Moreover, not all memoranda look like formal memos – they may be undated or look like short notes. 

Finding the text of INS memos

INS memoranda are not officially or systematically published, so they can be difficult to find. 

The full text of many INS memos (or excerpts from them) is selectively reprinted in Interpreter Releases (JOURNALS KF4802 .I58x). Whether or not a particular memo is printed depends partly on whether someone sent the memo to Interpreter Releases (either officially or unofficially). It will also depend on whether the editors of Interpreter Releases have deemed a memo both reliable and interesting to a large segment of the Interpreter Releases readership. For example, draft policies circulated for INS internal comment might not be published. Memos printed in Interpreter Releases are not necessarily (or usually) labeled “Memorandum.” 

To find a memo in Interpreter Releases, look in the table of contents or the general index. Availability of these searching tools varies by year. To search by table of contents, look in the yellow table of contents that starts or ends the appropriate volume(s) by year. Search for entries that say something like “INS Issues Instructions on ________,” “INS discusses ________,” “INS advises ________.” Note that not every memo will be designated this way in the table of contents – some might be titled simply “More on ________.” The light blue general index at the end of each year’s volumes allows one to search that year’s contents by topic. 

Other Sources for INS Memoranda 

INS memoranda were also printed in AILA Monthly Mailing (but not in the later named Immigration Law Today). These mailings are published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Full (not student) members of AILA may also be able to access many INS memos on the AILA website

The HeinOnline Immigration Law Library also contains INS documents.


March 1, 2003-Present: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al.

Interoffice memoranda can usually be found on the agency's or bureau's official website.


Memoranda can also be found in Interpreter Releases (JOURNALS KF 4802 .I58x)

  • Use the table of contents or the general index. Availability and location of these finding aids varies by year.
  • To search by table of contents, look in the first or last volume of that year's bound set. The table of contents is usually printed on color paper (e.g., yellow).
  • Search for entries like “USCIS Issues Guidance on _________, ” “ICE Instructs _________, ” or “USCIS Updates __________. ” 
  • You can also search by topic using the general index. Like the table of contents, this finding aid will be located in the first or last volume of a particular year. It is also typically printed on color paper (e.g., blue).

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