Deportation is a legal term that refers to the process of removing a non-citizen from the United States. Deportation occurs based on an order from the federal government when a non-citizen, also referred to as an “immigrant,” or “alien,” commits a serious crime or violates immigration laws. Deportation must follow a specific legal process in which the alien has certain rights. To explore this concept, consider the following deportation definition

Definition of Deportation


  1. The legal removal of an undesired alien or other person from a country.
  2. The act of deporting.


1585-1595       Latin dēportātiōn- 

What is Deportation

Deportation takes place when the United States government determines that an individual who is not a citizen of the United States not remain in the country. When this occurs, the government must hold legal proceedings before the individual can be removed. At the conclusion of the proceedings, the individual is most often returned back to his or her country. There are many reasons an individual may face deportation, though the most common reason is simply being in the country illegally, without proper immigration or work documents. The Department of Homeland Security has the responsibility of overseeing deportation proceedings.

Deportation Laws

Immigration and deportation laws serve the purpose of protecting the U.S. from a flood of people from other countries that have the potential of taking valuable resources from U.S. citizens. People from other countries are often granted permission to enter the United States, for brief visits, to attend college, for employment purposes, and even for permanent immigration. There is a specified procedure that must be followed to gain permission to enter the U.S. Individuals who side step this procedure, coming into the country illegally, are subject to deportation.

Deportation laws work in conjunction with the Immigration and Nationality Act (the “INA”) of 1965. The INA, also known as the Hart-Celler Act, replaced the quota system of allowing immigrants into the U.S. with a preference system, in which potential immigrants are given preference for having certain work skills, or having family in the U.S. The INA also set limitations on the number of individuals granted visas.

Grounds for Deportation

There are many reasons a non-citizen may be subject to deportation from the United States. Each case differs, but some of the causes of deportation are more common than others. An illegal alien may be subject to removal from the U.S. if he:

  • Is an inadmissible non-citizen according to immigration laws in effect at the time of entry to the United States
  • Is in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act
  • Is in violation of any United States law, or has been convicted of serious criminal offenses
  • Has terminated a conditional permanent residency in the United States
  • Failed to notify immigration officials of a change of address
  • Aided another non-citizen in entering the country illegally
  • Got married fraudulently to gain admission to the country
  • Falsified documents related to entry
  • Failed to register documents related to entry
  • Voted unlawfully

Deportation List

If a non-citizen is unsuccessful in defending his right to stay in the U.S. at the deportation hearing, the court will order him to leave the United States. In some cases, the individual fails to show up at the hearing. When this occurs, that individual is automatically ordered to leave the country. When this occurs, or if the government is unable to locate the immigrant to order him to court, he is put on what is known as a “deportation list.

Avoiding Deportation

A person who has entered the U.S. legally must meet certain conditions to keep his status legal. This involves obeying the rules of notifying authorities if there are certain changes, and refraining from breaking any laws.

What is Relief from Removal

Relief from removal may be granted if a deportable alien provides a legal basis for being able to remain in the country. Relief from removal may be granted on a temporary or a permanent basis, depending in the specific circumstances of the case. Some of the most common circumstances that provide relief from removal include:

  • Asylum – Asylum can be granted if a non-citizen is not allowed to return to his home country because he is facing persecution, or has a valid fear of persecution based on religion, social group, or race. It is up to the Attorney General whether or not to grant asylum to a non-citizen.
  • Voluntary Departure – Voluntary departure may be granted by a court if a deportation order has been issued, but the non-citizen wishes to leave on a voluntary basis.
  • Adjustment of Status – If a non-citizen is in the United States for a long period of time, he may request an adjustment of status to declare him a “lawful permanent residence.”
  • Suspended Deportation – Deportation may be suspended if the alien subject to deportation meets certain criteria. These include being physically present in the United States for seven years or more, being of good moral character, and showing that deportation would cause him, or his family, extreme hardship.

Deportation Process

Once the Department of Homeland Security determines that a person should be removed from the United States, the department is required to schedule removal proceedings. The deportation process is handled by a division of the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S.), the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division (also known as “I.C.E.”).

I.C.E. may begin an investigation on any alien for a number of reasons. Often the division receives telephone tips of individuals in the U.S. illegally. Such investigations may also result from workplace raids. Following the investigation, the D.H.S. must serve the individual with a Notice to Appear at an immigration hearing. The notice must contain specific information, including:

  • The reason the proceedings are being held
  • The person’s right to an attorney
  • The grounds for deportation
  • The legal consequences for failing to appear at the hearing

It is important to note that non-citizens facing deportation are afforded the right to an attorney, even if they can’t afford one. If someone facing deportation is unable to afford an attorney, the court is required to appoint a public defender to represent him.

Master Calendar Hearing

Removal hearings during the deportation process take place in federal court, presided over by an immigration judge. The first hearing, the Master Calendar Hearing, must be attended, though it is not required that the alien have an attorney. During this hearing, a determination will be made as to how the case will proceed.

Merits Hearing

The next hearing to take place is the Merits Hearing. This hearing allows the defendant, or his attorney, to present his case to the judge. He can testify on his own behalf, and may provide witnesses if needed. It is after this hearing that the judge will decide whether the individual should be deported. The judge may give an oral decision at that time, or may advise the individual that a written decision will be issued at a later date.


If the judge decides the individual must be deported, the individual has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (the “BIA”). If the BIA decides against the individual, he may appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, and a final appeal may be made to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Order to Leave

Once the individual has been ordered deported, the government sends a “bag and baggage” letter to the address provided by the individual on his court documents. This letter tells the individual when and where to report for his trip out of the United States, and how much baggage he may bring with him. If the letter is ignored, the individual will be considered a fugitive, and subject to arrest.

Avoiding Deportation

Deportation is a frightening prospect, but there are ways for non-citizens to avoid it all together. This can be done by ensuring that he obtains a valid green card and does not violate criminal or immigration laws. The person should also refrain from abandoning the United States as his permanent residence. If this occurs, the non-citizen may have a hard time returning to the country as border officials try to determine the legal place of residence.

Deportation Statistics

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) agency conducts studies in order to identify threats to public safety, including criminal acts by non-citizens. I.C.E. is also responsible for detaining and removing people that are apprehended attempting to cross the country’s border illegally. In order to identify areas that need more funding, or more attention, I.C.E. compiles immigration and deportation statistics. In 2014:

  • I.C.E. removed 315,943 aliens from the United States
  • Nearly 87,000 of these people had been previously convicted of crimes
  • I.C.E. removed 213,719 individuals who were apprehended while attempting to enter the country unlawfully
  • I.C.E. deported 2,802 individuals that were classified as suspected or confirmed gang members

Supreme Court Rules in Major Immigration Deportation Case

In 2010, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend. Deportation proceedings commenced shortly after the arrest and the man, Noel Reyes Mata, hired lawyers. Mata hired an attorney to represent him in his deportation proceedings, but the attorney failed to file the required documents to gain Mata a BIA appeal, and the appeal was denied. Mata fired the attorney, and hired new counsel, who requested that Mata’s case be reopened based on the fact that Mata did not know of his former attorney’s incompetence until it was too late.

The BIA once again dismissed Mata’s request, so his attorney took the matter to the court of appeals, which decided not to overturn the BIA’s decision. Mata’s case was then taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. In an 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the appellate court does have jurisdiction over such a case, and may delay a deadline in order for an immigrant who has suffered incompetent counsel, to reopen his case.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Alien – A foreign-born person who is not a citizen of the United States.
  • Criminal LawThe body of law dealing with criminal offenses and their punishment.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Green Card – A permit allowing a non-US citizen to live and work in the United States.
  • Hearing – A proceeding before the court at which an issue of fact or law is heard, evidence presented, and a decision made.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Residency – The geographical location in which a person lives or resides; the location of a business’ main office or to which a corporation is registered.
  • Public Defender – An attorney appointed by the court to represent a defendant who cannot afford to hire an attorney. In large jurisdictions, the office of the Public Defender employs multiple defense attorneys who have a large caseload. In smaller jurisdictions, attorneys for public defense may be appointed from a pool of local private attorneys.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.