What Is Deportation (Removal)?

Explanation of deportation (removal) and what to expect in removal proceedings.

Deportation (also known as removal) is a confusing and scary topic, but it is important for any non-citizen living in the United States to understand. Let's walk through what it means to be deported, who is at risk of or can be deported, and what to expect in deportation proceedings.

What Does "Deportation" Mean?

The legal term for deportation is "removal," but many people use these two words interchangeably, including attorneys, immigration officers, and immigration judges. We will use the word "deportation" in this article.

First, let's understand the difference between being placed in deportation proceedings, being ordered deported, and actually being deported.

Being placed in deportation proceedings means that the government is starting a process that could end in an order of removal. Being ordered deported means that either an immigration judge or an immigration officer has determined that you are not permitted to remain in the United States and ordered your departure. Finally, being deported means actually leaving the United States, either on your own or after receiving a "bag and baggage" letter from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) telling you when and where to show up for transport.

What Leads Someone to Be Deported?

U.S. immigration law contains various grounds of removability. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1227.)

The most commonly used one applies to people who have no legal immigration status or right to be in the U.S. in the first place, likely because they entered without permission or overstayed a visa. Other grounds, which can even apply to someone with a green card, include things like having committed a crime or failed to tell the U.S. government about a change of address. Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen could potentially be placed into removal proceedings.

Someone's removability can come to the attention of U.S. immigration authorities in any of various ways. If the person applies for an immigration benefit and the government denies the application, it might initiate removal proceedings. Or if someone is arrested and the police check for an immigration hold, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) might check into the person's status and determine he or she is potentially removable.

Understanding the Deportation Process

There are some possible procedural differences in the path toward deportation, depending on one's immigration history and the way one comes to the attention of U.S. immigration authorities.

Removal Proceedings

The most common way to end up being deported is to first be placed into "removal proceedings." Removal proceedings start because ICE formally accuses the non-citizen of being removable. The government does this when it believes the person is either in the United States without proper documentation, has violated the terms of a visa or other status, or has committed a violation that prevents them from remaining in the United States.

If you are placed in deportation proceedings, you will be scheduled to appear before an immigration judge, who will then decide whether to order you deported or not.

Expedited Removal

Another procedural path to being deported is what is called "expedited removal." The government initiates expedited removal proceedings against certain people who are in the United States without documentation or have misrepresented material facts in order to obtain U.S. admission. However, you can be placed in expedited removal proceedings only if you are at a port of entry or if you entered the United States unlawfully and cannot prove you have been in the United States for at least two years. In expedited removal proceedings, you will not see an immigration judge. Instead, an immigration officer will decide whether you should be deported. You will be ordered removed without a court hearing. This process happens very quickly.

Reinstatement of Removal

Another way to be deported is through "reinstatement of removal." The procedure is used only with people who have been ordered deported in the past and have come back to the United States without permission. Like with expedited removal, you will not see an immigration judge. An immigration officer can order your removal from the United States on this basis.

What Are the Steps in Deportation?

The steps in expedited removal and reinstatement of removal are first, being encountered by an immigration official, then being questioned, then the immigration official determining whether you should be removed and if so, taking final steps to arrange this.

The steps in removal proceedings are more complicated and take longer.

  • The government will file a Notice to Appear with the immigration court. Sometimes this document will have a hearing date and location listed on it. Most often, however, you will receive a separate document in the mail with a date and location for your first hearing.
  • You will attend your first hearing, called a "master calendar hearing." Here, you will discuss with the immigration judge and the government attorney whether the charges against you in the Notice to Appear are true and whether you are eligible to apply for relief from removal. If you have no realistic basis upon which to claim eligibility for relief, you might be ordered deported at the master calendar hearing. Or, depending on the circumstances of your case, you might be scheduled for more than one master calendar hearing.
  • If you are potentially eligible for relief from removal, the immigration judge will set a deadline for you to file any applications and evidence. The immigration judge will also schedule your case to be heard at an "individual hearing."
  • At the "individual hearing", the immigration judge will review your evidence, listen to your testimony, and decide whether to approve your application. If the judge denies your application, you will be ordered deported.
  • You can either appeal the immigration judge's decision or accept it as final. If you tell the immigration judge you want to appeal, you will need to file the necessary documents with the Board of Immigration Appeals before the deadline the immigration judge sets. So long as you file the appeal on time, you will not be deported while the appeal is pending. If you tell the immigration judge you do not want to appeal the order of removal, then it becomes a final order, and ICE will begin the process of deporting you.

Getting Help If You Are Facing Deportation

Being deported or being placed in deportation proceedings can have serious consequences for your ability to stay in or eventually return to the United States. To find out whether your deportation can be prevented, talk to an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible.

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