What is Deportation?

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In Anglo-American law, deportation is the expulsion by an executive agency of a noncitizen whose presence in a country is deemed unlawful or detrimental. In practice, the term has often had a broader meaning: it can include exile, banishment, and the transportation of criminals to penal settlements. The United States has a history of deporting people from across the globe for a variety of reasons, but the term has come to be particularly associated with mass removals of noncitizens from the country. Deportation is a powerful tool of state power, and it can have devastating consequences for those who are removed.

A person can be removed from the United States for a variety of reasons, including entering or re-entering the country without proper documentation, engaging in public charge activity, committing crimes of moral turpitude, or being convicted of certain crimes related to drug trafficking. Most people are placed into removal proceedings because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) formally accuses them of violating the terms of their status or visa.

Those placed into removal proceedings can be taken into custody and immediately sent back to their country of origin, or they may remain free in the United States while their case is processed. The process starts when ICE serves the noncitizen with a notice to appear, which includes information about the charges against them and the date of their individual hearing.

Noncitizens with a case are then contacted by an immigration judge and asked to present their evidence in support of their case. The immigration judge then decides whether to deport the person or not. If the judge determines that a noncitizen should be removed, the case is sent back to ICE to continue the removal process.

The immigration legal system and the criminal justice system often intersect through information-sharing programs like Secure Communities. These programs require local and state law-enforcement agencies to share fingerprints with ICE and to check them against immigration databases. If the fingerprints match, ICE can issue a “detainer” asking that the LEA hold the person for longer than they normally would, which allows them time to take them into custody and begin removal proceedings. However, many LEAs do not honor ICE’s detainer requests.

As of 2018, there were approximately 11 million individuals in the United States with an order of removal. Of those, 6.1 million American citizen children live in households with a family member who is vulnerable to being deported. Deportation carries significant costs, both for families and for the economy. In fact, the Marshall Project and Center for Migration Studies found that household incomes drop by nearly half after a family member is deported. These economic losses are compounded by the emotional trauma that can occur when a family is split apart by deportation. The United States deports tens of thousands of families every year, and the number is rising. Deportations are not only a form of family separation, they also send poor migrants back to their home countries, where they are more likely to face poverty and violence.