Basic Legal Citations

Immigration is undoubtedly very complex, and it is often hard to trudge through the legalese (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/legalese) in the laws, regulations, and cases, regardless if you are an attorney or not! I developed a training on basic legal citations to hopefully help you decipher the different places where we find information to analyze cases. This week’s Wiggio is a very condensed version of that training. If anyone is interested in a full training on legal citations, please email me so that I can schedule a time and place.

 

Helpful Definitions
The biggest issue in dealing with legalese is not knowing what things mean! I wanted to give some basic definitions, some of which you may know and some which may be new to you, to help better understand the citations.

* Law: any system of rules to govern the conduct of the people of an organization, community, society, or nation.

* Statute: a law enacted by a legislative body, such as the U.S. Congress or a state senate.

* Regulation: an official rule created by a government agency about a specific area of law (ex. Department of Homeland Security).

* Decision: the outcome of a proceeding before a judge, government agency, or legal tribunal.

 

What is a citation?

A citation is a reference to a source that supports or is related to a statement. Citations can reference both official and unofficial sources.

* Practice Tip: Official sources are called primary sources. These are statements about the law that come directly from a legislature or court. Unofficial sources are called secondary sources. These are statements that come from commentators without authority to set legal rules, such as a dictionary.

 

Common Sources

Depending on the complexity of a particular client’s case, you may need to look in different places to figure out how that person should proceed. The most common sources of information to look for immigration are:

* Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

* United States Code (U.S.C.)

* Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.)

* Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Decisions

* Decisions (Federal and state)

* Massachusetts laws (Mass. Gen. Laws)

 

How do you read a citation?

Each different source type has its own unique format for citations. If you were writing something and needed to reference multiple sources, you would cite to the INA differently than you would cite to federal decisions which is different from state decisions which is different from the U.S. Code. Plus, each state cites to its own decisions differently. It can seem very confusing but once you understand the pattern of each source, you will be able to read anything!