What Is Deportation?

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In the United States, deportation is a process of legally removing a non-citizen from the country, often because they have violated immigration laws. This is done by the Department of Homeland Security, through the agency that investigates and brings removal actions against people, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

A person can be removed through a deportation procedure called “expedited removal” or “reinstatement of removal.” Both expedited procedures skip many steps of regular removal proceedings, including having an individual encountered by an immigration official, questioned, and being ordered to leave.

In normal removal proceedings, an individual will be given a chance to present their case and argue for relief from deportation before an immigration judge. A lawyer can help with this process. Immigration law includes a right to a fair hearing, and immigration judges are generally considered to be impartial.

The process of deportation can be lengthy, and a judge may not agree to remove someone immediately, even if they are found to have committed crimes or otherwise acted inadmissibly. The ICE director has discretion to “pause” the deportation process for certain groups of individuals, such as those with criminal records or community ties that could jeopardize public safety.

Brock, like many other scholars, argues that uprooting people who have settled into ways of life that are important to them or their families violates the moral limits on permissible state action and often causes harm that is disproportionate to the end being pursued. Her focus on harm is an auxiliary aspect of her larger argument that the purpose of deportation should be limited to people who pose a threat to national security.

A major problem with Brock’s argument, however, is that she does not provide a clear and systematic definition of what is meant by the term “harm” and how it might be measured in cases involving deportation. Rather, her concern with harm seems to be driven by a general human rights framework and the desire to establish a “harm threshold” that would limit the scope of the deportation state’s authority (see Brock 2020: 104-105).

For example, our survey participants reported that deportation caused significant economic hardship for their families remaining behind in the United States. Many were forced to lose their jobs, and others had difficulty paying rent/utilities, purchasing groceries, or providing day-care, among other things. Families were also separated, with 52% of those who were deported reporting being separated from their nuclear family members. This is especially troubling when children are involved. Families experiencing deportation are already stretched economically, socially, and emotionally, and the loss of a parent can have lasting negative effects on them. This can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. In addition, children who are left behind face the prospect of moving from a two-parent household to a single-parent one. This can lead to a variety of educational and emotional problems, such as dropping out of school. These difficulties can have long-term effects, as the children are likely to be less well-educated and have more trouble getting a job later in life.