An Immigrant’s Guide To Deportation In The U.S.

Deportation is the act of formally removing someone from the U.S., and it’s a serious proceeding. Officially called removal, immigration judges can order deportation after an alien has violated American immigration laws.

Who’s In Charge Of Deportation In The U.S.?

Deportation, immigration judges and all the rules applying to entering, leaving or being ordered from the U.S., fall under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Grounds For Deportation

Nobody can authorize deportation without having a reason. The U.S. government can only choose to deport a foreign national if he or she has committed a crime or violated some aspect of immigration law. In fact, committing a crime and the failure to obey the terms of a visa are the most common reasons people are deported from the U.S. However, there are many reasons a judge can order removal, including:

  • Commission of a crime
  • Drug abuse
  • Drug addiction
  • Failure to advise USCIS of a change of address
  • Failure to obey the terms of a visa
  • Marriage fraud
  • Receiving public assistance
  • Threatening public safety

Crimes That Make You Deportable

Conviction of certain crimes make you deportable, such as domestic violence, aggravated felonies and crimes of “moral turpitude.”

Drug Abuse Or Drug Addiction

Using drugs or being addicted to drugs, including alcohol, may be grounds for deportation. Also, the Immigration and Nationality Act says that if you violate controlled substance laws (other than one marijuana offense that involves 30 grams or less of the drug), you’re deportable.

Failure To Notify USCIS About A Move

You must let the Attorney General know when you move. If you fail to do so, you could be deported.

Failure To Obey The Terms Of Your Visa

Every visa has rules associated with it. If you violate the terms of your visa, or if you received an immigrant visa when you were actually inadmissible to the United States, you’re subject to removal.

Marriage Fraud (And Other Types Of Fraud)

If you committed marriage fraud for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits, or if you committed any other type of fraud to get into the U.S., you could be deported.

Getting On Public Assistance

Not all immigrants are barred from obtaining public assistance. However, if you receive public assistance within the first 5 years after your arrival, unless you can show that you have causes that have arisen since you entered the U.S. (like getting injured on the job and being unable to work), you could be deported. The INA says specifically that you can be removed if you have “become a public charge from causes not affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry.”

Threatening Public Safety

Engaging in any criminal activity that endangers public safety or national security makes you deportable. The same is true if you participate in any activity that opposes the government or is an attempt to take control or overthrow the government by force, violence or other unlawful means.

How Does Deportation Work?

If the U.S. government has the grounds to deport someone, it initiates removal proceedings. Removal proceedings typically happen this way:

  • Detention. In some cases, the foreign national who is going through removal proceedings is put into a detention center before his or her trial. However, some people are not detained – they’re free to go about their lives until their day in court.
  • Going to trial. The U.S. Department of Justice governs immigration judges, who hear the government’s case against the immigrant and the immigrant’s side of the story. The judge decides whether the person is deportable. If the person is deportable, the judge decides whether or not to order deportation.
  • Deportation. If an immigration judge has ruled that the person needs to be removed from the U.S., he or she is usually flown back to his or her home country at the U.S. government’s expense. Sometimes, when it’s more feasible, the deported person is put on a bus.

Can You Stop Deportation?Removal Proceeding

Sometimes it’s possible to stop removal proceedings. You or your attorney can request what’s called a cancellation of removal hearing so you have the opportunity to show the court why you should be allowed to stay in the U.S.

If you want to qualify for a cancellation of removal hearing, you must show the court these three things:

  • That you’re a person of good moral character, and you have been a person of good moral character for at least the last 10 years.
  • You’ve been present in the U.S. for the past 10 years. You’ll need to show a copy of your passport and the original Form I-94 that was attached to it when you first arrived here. You can also show pay stubs, bills with your address on them, or other items that prove you kept residency here for the last decade. (Taking short vacations to your home country or another country don’t count against you – this is about maintaining a home here rather than never leaving the country.)
  • You and your family would suffer hardship if you were deported. You and your attorney need to show the judge that you couldn’t handle that hardship.
    Some people aren’t allowed to ask for a cancellation of removal hearing, though. You can’t apply if you:
  • Are suspected of espionage, terrorism or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. government
  • Have been convicted of an aggravated felony or a crime of moral turpitude
  • Have been convicted of immigration law violations, like a fraudulent marriage
  • Have persecuted other people

Ways To Fight Deportation

In addition to asking for a cancellation of removal hearing, there are other ways you can stop deportation. You might be able to ask the court for asylum or an adjustment of status, or you can argue your case in front of a judge.

Asking An Immigration Judge For Asylum

Through a process called defensive asylum, you can ask an immigration judge to grant you refuge in the U.S. while you’re in deportation proceedings. Political asylum is an immigration status that grants you the protection of staying in the U.S. – but in order to get it, you must show the court that you fear persecution or that you’ve already suffered persecution in your home country due to:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group or class
  • Political opinion

Some examples of persecution include the denial of basic human rights or freedoms, inappropriate imprisonment, torture or violence, or the threats of any of those things.

Not everyone qualifies for asylum; some people aren’t even allowed to ask for it. You can’t ask a judge for asylum if you’ve persecuted others, or if you were convicted of a serious crime in the U.S. or abroad. Additionally, if you’re a danger to U.S. security or you were resettled in another country before you came to the U.S., you can’t petition the court for asylum. There are a few exceptions, though, so talk to your attorney about whether you might still qualify – even if you fall into one of these categories.

Asking The Court For An Adjustment Of Status

If you’ve been in the U.S. long enough to obtain a green card, you might be able to ask an immigration judge to adjust your status rather than deport you. However, only a limited number of green cards are available each year – and that means it’s always better to apply for a green card as soon as you’re eligible rather than waiting until you’re in the middle of removal proceedings.

Presenting Your Case To An Immigration Judge

Your immigration attorney might be able to present your case to an immigration judge and argue that you’re not deportable. He or she might also be able to show the judge that you deserve to stay in the United States. If you’re entitled to a hearing, your lawyer will work hard to get you the best possible outcome.

A Word On Voluntary Departure

If you’re deported, you won’t be allowed to try to come back into the U.S. However, if you choose voluntary departure, you won’t be barred from reentry – so for some people, this is a good option.
Voluntary departure requires you to admit that you are removable from the U.S.

Do You Need To Talk To An Immigration Lawyer About Deportation Proceedings?

If you’ve received a notice to appear in court for a deportation hearing, you may want to talk to an attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer will help you understand what the order says, and he or she will talk to you about the grounds for deportation that the government is saying you meet. The notice to appear, or NTA, will tell you the date and time you need to appear in court and the charges of removability against you.

It’s important to remember that the U.S. government puts many people into removal proceedings – but not all of them are deported. The government’s job is to establish that you’re actually removable before a judge can order your deportation, and if the government can’t do so, an immigration judge can’t deport you.

We may be able to help you if you’ve received a notice to appear. Call us right away for a free consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer. Tell us what’s going on and we’ll start developing a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome.