Being put into deportation – or removal – proceedings is one of the hardest experiences a person can experience. People can be put into removal proceedings in a variety of ways. Sometimes an undocumented immigrant is simply unlucky enough to have a random encounter with an officer of Immigration and Customs (ICE). This happens most often but not exclusively at or near a border. Some persons are apprehended when they are coming to the United States. Others are placed in removal proceedings because they have failed to maintain a previous status – for example, as a student. One of the largest groups placed in removal proceedings are persons who Immigration learns have some sort of a criminal conviction. Sometimes law enforcement contacts ICE; other times Immigration discovers a criminal conviction from court records.

If you are not a U.S. citizen and you face any type of criminal charges, you need to be aware that deportation proceedings are always a possibility. Make sure you contact an immigration lawyer or have your criminal lawyer contact an immigration lawyer so you can anticipate what could happen and, if possible, try to prevent it or improve the outcome. What many criminal lawyers do not understand is that much of what they learned about criminal case does not pertain to deportation. Criminal law and immigration law are very different. Specific deportation defense is necessary.

Remember, when criminal convictions occur, the undocumented immigrant may not be the only person to be deported. Also, be aware this applies to both misdemeanors and felonies. Immigrants can be deported for both, and both can trigger deportation proceedings. A common problem is that what is a good plea deal for most American citizens may lead to disastrous consequences for an immigrant, lawful permanent resident or not. Thus, only a lawyer who truly understands immigration law and its confusing law regulations, case law, and practices can give proper advice regarding immigration matters.

Once Immigration does contact you, there are several rules you should follow:

  • Never show an immigration officer a “fake” document. This is both an immigration violation and a federal crime.
  • Never claim to be someone you’re not. You are not required to talk to immigration officers, but you should not lie to them.
  • The immigration officer may request identification. You may show the officer proper identification showing your lawful immigration status and your country of origin.
  • If you have pending applications for immigration relief (such as a petition from your family members), feel free to notify the officers of the pending application as it may in some cases allow them to exercise some level of discretion in your case. Be aware having a pending application does not make you legal and does not prevent you from being placed in deportation proceedings.

The officer will likely issue you a document known as a Notice to Appear (NTA). This document will tell you which immigration violations they claim you have committed. Read the document. If you understand it, you may sign to acknowledge you received it. Make sure you demand a hearing in front of an immigration judge. If you fear removal to your country, make sure you say you have fear. In any event, do not let the officer put words in your mouth. If you do not fully understand their questions, politely refuse to answer them and request a hearing before an immigration officer.

The officer may ask about your family situation. It is usually a good idea to explain this, particularly if you have family members who may face emergencies if you are taken into custody. An example of this would be if you have small children who you must care for. The officer will then make a decision regarding whether to take you to jail or release you. If he indicates you will be taken into custody, make sure you request a court hearing to challenge this decision. Whether you are released or not, immediately contact an immigration lawyer such as the attorneys at Golden & Jernigan PC to review the document given you and investigate remedies to stop your deportation and seek your release from jail.

There are many possible defenses to deportation:

  • Some persons who the government claims are violating their non-immigrant status may not truly be in violation.
  • Some permanent residents with criminal convictions may not be subject to deportation due to the complexity of U.S. immigration laws.
  • Some people qualify for asylum or other humanitarian relief such as the convention against torture.
  • Others who have been present for 7 years in the case of lawful permanent residents may qualify for what is known as 42A relief.
  • Other persons who are not in status but have been present 10 years or longer and have close family members who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may qualify for what is known as 42B relief.
  • Some people with pending applications such as an application to adjust status to permanent resident may be allowed to complete these applications before the immigration court.

There are many other circumstances which may allow a person in removal proceedings to get help to prevent deportation. Being contacted by ICE is a beginning of a process and not a definite end. This process is not enjoyable. You will experience inconvenience and expense. Things will not go as quickly as you like, and there will be hardship. However, the first step in the process towards a favorable outcome is to contact a qualified immigration lawyer as soon as possible. If you are not sure who to call, ask if your attorney belongs to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). This is an association of lawyers who invest in learning about the law and working to better themselves. Always feel free to contact us at Golden & Jernigan PC. We will help you, or, if we can’t, we will let you know why we cannot.