Throughout my practice I encounter a large number of clients who are in removal proceedings or have a family member who is removal proceedings. The removal process is a very emotionally charged situation especially when spouses and children are involved. The removal system is complex as it was not created to facilitate the individual who is being detained for removal/deportation. In order to navigate the pitfalls of the removal process this article will briefly discuss ten essential things that you should be aware of in the event that you or your loved one is placed in removal proceedings.
1. First, the United States government does have the authority to detain and remove individuals who are deportable, inadmissible and or subject to a prior order of removal. These terms-inadmissible, deportable and excludable-all have different legal definitions that will ultimately have an effect on the individual’s possible relief from removal. However, the main thing to remember is that the United States government has the authority to remove you if you fall into any of these categories.
2. Second, when you are placed in removal proceedings you will receive a document called a Notice to Appear, i.e., “NTA.” This document is your official notice that you are in removal/deportation proceedings. The NTA is extremely important for a myriad of reasons that will be discussed at my “Removal Workshop” in December, 2009.
3. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has recently increased its campaign to locate, detain and remove undocumented individuals, individuals with criminal records, and individuals who have overstayed their legal visit. In Georgia, a majority of my clients are placed in removal proceedings because they were arrested in a criminal matter or issued a traffic citation. In addition, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, [hereinafter “USCIS”], has now begun to forward denied or withdraw immigration petitions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, [hereinafter “ICE”], to be placed in removal proceedings.
4. If you are detained and placed in removal proceedings you must first request a bond from the ICE officer that handles your case. If your officer does not issue a bond you will need to request a bond hearing before the Immigration Judge. One caveat to remember is that not all detained individuals are eligible for a bond. You will need to consult counsel to determine if you are eligible be released or if you must remain in custody throughout the entire removal process.
5. Do not sign any documents while in detention. Typically while you are in removal proceedings the ICE officers will sometimes tell you that if you sign the paperwork you will not have to wait for a court hearing and you will be able to return home quickly. This information is sometimes true but it is also misleading. Most times whenever a detained individual signs he/she is signing a stipulated order of removal. A stipulated order of removal means that he/she has agreed to bypass the Court and he/she has agreed to be deported. This course of action will have long term consequences on that individual’s ability to return to the United States.
6. Not all ICE officers are unpleasant. While you are in removal proceedings you may be assigned to a very pleasant officer who will advise you that your best course of action is to be deported. Do not fall for this trap! ICE officers are not lawyers and they do not represent your interest. ICE officers work for the Department of Homeland Security. As such, their job is to locate, detain and deport. You should not take any advice from an ICE officer regarding your eligibility for relief from removal. In addition, if you think that you are eligible for relief from deportation do not discuss this information or any personal details about your life with the ICE officer. Remember that everything that you say to the officer will be recorded and will be used against you in court to effectuate your deportation.
7. If you have family members who are able to communicate directly with your ICE officer you must remind your family members not to discuss the details of your case with the ICE officer. Most times family members are distraught that their loved one is in jail. This is understandable. Consequently, family members will constantly plead with the ICE officer to terminate or release their loved one by telling the officer personal information/immigration history about their loved one. Family members should not converse with the ICE officer regarding these matters. The ICE officer is not able to help you or your family in this regard. Remember, everything that you or your family says to the officer will be recorded and could be used against you in court to effectuate your deportation. Your best option is to retain an attorney who will discuss your case with the ICE officer and pursue your case with the Immigration Judge.
8. While you are detained you must demand to be allowed to contact your family. When you call your family you should provide them with your alien number, the name of the detention center and a telephone number, (if possible). However, the most important information that you must provide to your family is your alien number. Once your family/attorney has your alien number they will be able to determine if you are scheduled for court and to request a bond hearing. More importantly, with your alien number your family/attorney will be able to communicate directly with the ICE officer assigned to your case.
9. While you are in removal proceedings it is your responsibility to ensure that the Court has your correct address at all times. If you do not appear for Court the Judge will order you deported in your absence. An absentia order of removal will prevent you from obtaining legal status even if you are eligible for permanent residence.
10. While you are in removal proceedings you need to remain as calm as possible. Do not give up hope. The removal hearing process can be very complex and disheartening. However, if you are eligible for relief it is worth the time and effort to pursue your case in court.
Attorney Byars will be conducting her annual “Removal Workshop” in Atlanta, Georgia in December, 2009. This workshop is geared to educate the attendees of the inner workings of the removal process. The workshop will also discuss in detail all avenues of relief from deportation. There are twelve spaces available. If you would like more information regarding the workshop or any information in this article, please contact attorney Byars via email at: [email protected].
About the Writer:
Safiya Byars is a senior immigration attorney in Norcross, Georgia. She is a native of Jamaica and has personal experience with the difficulties of maneuvering the Immigration system. Safiya Byars has served as the senior immigration attorney with boutique immigration firms in both Alabama and Georgia. To discuss your case, please contact Attorney Byars at 404-992-6506 or via email.