What Is Deportation?

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Deportation is the expulsion of a person from a country. In practice, it occurs in a variety of ways: For example, someone who is caught illegally entering or re-entering the United States may be ordered to leave. The government might also order the removal of someone who has been convicted of crimes like homicide, trafficking in drugs or other controlled substances, or domestic violence. In addition, a foreign national who has participated in activities that threaten U.S. national security might be removed, as well as those who have been found to be gang members.

Many of these deportations have serious consequences for their victims, including their children. Almost six million children in the United States live with at least one parent who has been deported or is in removal proceedings. Deportations have significant emotional, developmental, and economic repercussions for these families, as well as their communities and the country as a whole.

The harms inflicted by deportation can vary considerably, depending on how long the person has been settled and on her health and the social, political, and economic circumstances of her destination country. Moreover, a careful assessment must be made of whether the state’s deportation-induced harms are proportionate to its aims.

As a practical matter, it is not easy to prove that the benefits of deportation outweigh the harms that a person suffers simply by virtue of being sent back to her home country. This is because the state’s aims are not always clear and because the means used for deportation can have a range of negative effects, from human rights violations to economic and demographic declines in her home country.

For example, deportations can contribute to the rise of transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13 in Central America and to the resurgence of the Gambia’s once-powerful dictatorship as its citizens are forced to return. Moreover, deportations can strain local health-care and public-service systems.

Deportations are often complicated by nonresponse or bureaucratic hurdles erected by the origin country. For example, if the United States requests the help of an embassy in verifying identification and issuing travel documents as part of a removal, the embassy can refuse to cooperate or erect cumbersome bureaucratic obstacles to make it difficult for the government to get the information it needs.

If you are facing deportation, you should seek legal services to determine what your options are. In some cases, you may be able to leave the country at your own expense (voluntary departure). You can find legal services through the government or through nonprofit organizations. In other cases, a judge might allow you to appeal the decision. If you do not appeal, the deportation will take place. Deportations are typically carried out by ICE Air Operations. People from Mexico are flown to border cities, while those from Central American countries are flown directly to their home countries. Read more about how the deportation process works.