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What You Need to Know About Deportation

President-elect Donald Trump has softened his stance on immigration. During his campaign, he vowed to deport all the 11 million undocumented immigrants. In a recent interview however, he said that he would prioritize the removal of the 2 to 3 million with criminal records.

Focusing on undocumented immigrants with criminal records has also been the thrust of outgoing president Barack Obama. In 2015, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that the focus of the agency’s limited resources was in combating threats to national security, public safety and border security rather than expending funding on individuals charged with minor crimes like traffic violations.

Back in 2011, the government deported a record-high of 396,906 individuals, 90% of those removed were criminals and repeat immigration law offenders. Fast forward to fiscal year 2015 and total deportations declined to 235,415, according to a report dated December 22, 2015 from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). As of July 2016, ICE has completed 168,781 deportations, a slight decline from the same point in 2015.

While this trend and Trump’s latest pronouncements may ease the worries of some people, it must be noted that those who are without lawful immigration status may still be placed under removal proceedings. It is therefore important for them to know what to do when facing deportation. An increase in sweeps or workplace raids may occur in the coming months.

Contrary to popular belief, unless subject to expedited removal an alien is generally entitled to court proceedings before being removed. Removal proceedings typically start with the service of a notice to appear (NTA) upon the alien.

The NTA specifies, among other things, the alleged immigration violation, the charge against the alien and the specific provision/s of the law alleged to have been violated, and the time and place of the hearing. An NTA may be served in person or by mail. As non-citizens are required to notify the USCIS of any change of address within 10 days of the change, in many cases the ICE may simply mail the NTA to the alien’s last addresses and it would be considered valid service.

If served with an NTA, the alien is strongly advised to consult an immigration lawyer because being placed under removal proceedings is a serious matter. An immigration lawyer can tell him whether proceedings can be terminated because of a problem with the NTA on its face or in the way that it was served. The lawyer can analyze the facts of the case, explain what options may be available, and if the alien would be eligible for a relief from removal. Reliefs include voluntary departure, asylum, adjustment of status and cancellation of removal.

The alien must attend the scheduled master hearing, which is a preliminary hearing where the charges are read and the alien is asked to admit or contest the allegations and whether he intends to seek relief from removal. An individual hearing is scheduled if the case will be heard on the merits.

The alien may be represented by an attorney at the master and individual hearings. However, unless provided pro bono services by a volunteer attorney or by a non-profit organization, any legal representation will be at the alien’s own cost because there is no right to government-appointed counsel in immigration cases.

The alien must keep the immigration court updated of any change of address and must attend his hearings. If he fails to notify the court of an address change, and because he did not receive correspondence he fails to attend a hearing, the proceedings may continue and may result in the alien being ordered removed in absentia.

 

Guidelines for Requesting Deferred Action

Details of the process for requesting consideration of deferred action were finally released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on August 3, 2012. The guidelines, published in a question and answer format, answers many questions regarding the process announced by President Obama less than eight weeks ago.

In order to clarify certain issues that the public may have regarding this process, some of the important items in the guidelines are repeated or summarized below.

Q: How does an individual who came to the United States as a child request consideration of deferred action?
A: The request will be made on a form that will be on the USCIS website on August 15, along with a form requesting employment authorization. The total filing fee is $465. Requests may be filed with the USCIS no earlier than August 15, 2012.

Q: Will information given in the request for consideration of deferred action be confidential?
A: Yes. The guidance clarifies that information given in the request is protected from disclosure to the enforcement arms of the DHS, including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Individuals whose cases have been deferred under this process will not be referred to ICE.

However, this protection does not apply if the requestor commits fraud or has a certain type of criminal history. USCIS guidance requires the issuance of a notice to appear or referral to ICE in certain circumstances, such as when there is a statement of findings substantiating the fraud, or when an alien is an egregious public safety case.

The guidance itself states that if the alien knowingly makes a misrepresentation or fails to disclose facts in order to obtain deferred action or work authorization, he would be treated as an immigration enforcement priority and subjected to criminal prosecution and/or removal.

Q: If the request is denied, will the alien be placed in removal proceedings?
A: If the case does not involve a criminal offense, fraud or threat to national security or public safety, it will not be referred to ICE for removal proceedings, except if the DHS finds that there are exceptional circumstances.

Q: Will dependents and relatives of the requestor benefit from this process?
A: No. Immediate relatives or dependents of childhood arrivals may not be considered for deferred action under this process unless they independently satisfy the guidelines.

Q: What are the key guidelines that must be met to be considered for deferred action?
A: To be able to request consideration of deferred action, the requestor must meet the following: be under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; came to the U.S. before his 16th birthday; continuously resided in the U.S. since June 15, 2007 up to the present; physically present in the U.S. on June 15, 2012 and at the time of making the request; entered without inspection before June 15, 2012 or lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012; currently in school or has graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, or obtained a GED certificate, or was honorably discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and has not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors, and does not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Q: How old must the requestor be in order to be considered for deferred action?
A: The alien must be at least 15 years old at the time of filing, unless he is in removal proceedings or has a final removal order or voluntary departure order, in which case the request may be filed even if he is under the age of 15.

Q: If an individual is currently in a nonimmigrant status (e.g., F-1 or H-4), can he request consideration?
A: No. Only those who currently have no immigration status and were not in any lawful status on June 15, 2012 are eligible to request consideration.

Q: Is expedited processing available?
A: No. There is no expedited processing for deferred action, so promises by unscrupulous practitioners or consultants for faster service upon payment of a fee may be fraudulent.

Q: If a case is deferred, does the individual obtain lawful status?
A: No. The guidelines reiterate the grant of deferred action will not confer any lawful status or provide a path to permanent residence or citizenship.

Q: Does the individual incur unlawful presence during the period of deferral?
A: No. If one’s case is deferred, the requestor will not accrue unlawful presence during the period of deferred action. However, it will not excuse previously accrued unlawful presence and, unless the requestor is under 18 years of age at the time of the request, unlawful presence will continue to accrue while the request is pending.

Q: If the request is denied, can the decision be appealed?
A: No. A motion to reopen or reconsider or an appeal is not available if the USCIS denies the request. USCIS will not review its determination except in two circumstances: if the denial was due to abandonment but the requestor responded timely to a request for evidence, or if the USCIS has a record of the requestor’s new address but it sent the RFE to the wrong address.

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