Understanding the Process of Deportation

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Deportation is the expulsion by executive agency of a noncitizen whose presence in a country is deemed unlawful or detrimental. It may be accompanied by other punishments, including fines or imprisonment.

People in the United States who are ordered to be deported can appeal their removal order or ask an Immigration Judge to reopen their case. Immigration Judges can reopen cases only if there was an error of law or new facts appear that impact the case.

Several factors determine how long a person has to spend in the United States before they can be deported. These include whether they entered the country without permission or overstayed their visa, criminal convictions, security risks and the length of time they spent in the United States, which varies depending on immigration status, if they came here with a visa or through a Visa Waiver Program, and any other grounds for removal.

When the government initiates a deportation case against a person, they serve them with a Notice to Appear. The person must then attend one or more hearings before an Immigration Judge to decide if they are eligible for relief from removal, which is the process of fighting their deportation. This includes proving that the charges against them in the Notice to Appear are false, or that they should not be removed because of their immigration status, past or present connections to their community and other reasons.

Many of the noncitizens deported from the United States are sent back to dangerous and unstable regions in their countries of origin, where they are at high risk of violence or other harms. A database from the Global Migration Project compiles reports of people who have been deported and faced abuse, torture, rape or even murder after their return.

There is a postcolonial power dynamic at play, with poor migrants sent back to former colonial territories, where they may have little support or protection. A lack of government resources and capacity can also make returns difficult. For example, when the U.S. government approaches an origin country’s embassy to request help in verifying identification and issuing travel documents as part of a deportation, that country can simply refuse or impose such a high bar for identity verification that it would be nearly impossible to comply with.

For these reasons, it is important for communities to have the right tools to support deportees after their return. Local efforts should include programs that foster supportive social networks and create a sense of belonging for families and individuals, and support mental health/healing and community building, particularly among children. These programs should also be designed to connect deported families with the social services they need and to connect them to organizers that can support their advocacy. In addition, cities and other local jurisdictions should end their 287(g) agreements with the federal immigration authorities and instead build strong partnerships with immigrant-serving organizations in their community. This would enable the city to better support immigrant detainees during their removal proceedings and after they are returned home.