If you had a removal (or deportation) hearing in Immigration Court and were not granted any form of relief, then the Immigration Judge (IJ) most likely ordered you removed from the United States. Similarly, if you did not attend your scheduled hearing, then the IJ probably ordered you removed in absentia, meaning “in your absence.”
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should not enforce an Order of Removal until it is final, which may depend on the circumstances of your case. Some common circumstances are explained below. (This article does not, however, address expedited removal orders executed at or near a border crossing.)
If you were present at the hearing and you reserved the right to appeal, then there is an automatic 30-day "stay" on the Order of Removal to give you time to file a Notice of Appeal. This means that ICE is not allowed to remove you from the U.S. during this time. If you were not in detention, you are required to keep the Immigration Court informed of any change of address. If you do not appeal within 30 days, then the Order of Removal will become final.
If you do not reserve the right to appeal, then the Order of Removal is final on the date that the IJ enters it. In that case, ICE may take you into custody immediately after your removal hearing. This is why it is important to always reserve the right to appeal (even if you probably will not do so) so that you have time to prepare to leave the United States.
If you were granted voluntary departure at your hearing, but you do not actually leave the U.S. during the given time period (usually 60 days), then the voluntary departure automatically becomes a final Order of Removal.
If you did not attend the hearing and the IJ ordered you removed in absentia, it is a final order. There are very limited circumstances in which you might be able to reopen the case for a second hearing. To learn more, read “I Was Ordered Removed in Absentia: What Can I Do?”
Once an Order of Removal becomes final, then ICE is supposed to deport you within 90 days, although due to limited resources and higher priorities, it does not always start the process until much later. If you have not been notified by ICE, you have no specific duty to do anything just yet, as it is up to ICE to begin the removal process.
If you are not in detention, ICE will send what is known as a "Bag and Baggage" letter (or Form I-166) demanding that you report to a local ICE facility at a particular time and date. You will be told to bring your passport or other travel documents with you, and you will be allowed a small piece of luggage to carry personal items. Basically, this is a letter asking you to turn yourself in so that you can be deported. At this point, you have a legal duty to report for removal as directed.
If you report as directed with your documents and baggage, then you will be taken into custody (or detained) until the government arranges to send you back to your home country. For those countries with many deportees, such as Mexico, arrangements are done quickly and mass deportations take place several times each week. If you are from a country that does not have diplomatic relations with the U.S., travel arrangements could take much longer.
You do not have to wait for ICE to take you into custody to comply with the terms of a removal order. Once you are subject to a final Order of Removal, any departure from the United States is deemed to "execute" the Order of Removal.
So, if you leave the U.S. on your own, you will be considered "deported" as of that date. Some people choose to do this in order to avoid being detained by ICE, and to have control over their own travel plans and which items they can bring along with them. Keep in mind that with this option, you will have to cover your own travel expenses and arrangements. Also, you should send evidence of your departure to ICE so they know that you have left.
If you ignore the "Bag and Baggage" letter, ICE will refer your file to the fugitive unit, which tracks down and arrests those noncitizens who fail to report for removal. ICE agents could arrest you at your home, work, or school at anytime. They often come in the middle of the night, when you are expected to be asleep at your home.
If you are arrested, you will be kept in custody (detained) until travel arrangements can be made. Once you are listed as a fugitive, this information may also reach local law enforcement, who may share any information about your whereabouts with ICE. For example, if the police stop you for even a minor traffic offense, you may be arrested and held so that ICE can take you into custody.
To learn more about the potential consequences of ignoring an Order of Removal, please read "Frequently Asked Questions About Deportation and Removal."