Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 2.9 3. Deportations on Criminal Grounds

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In 2001, the government removed 71,597 criminals – the largest total ever, an increase of more than 36 times the number of removals of immigrants on criminal grounds in 1986.[1]  The pace has not slackened since then. In 2002, for example, the INS removed 69,580 noncitizens on criminal grounds, up by 36 % from the 1997 total.[2]  In 2005, the number of immigrants deported for crimina1 convictions grew to nearly 90,000 a year.[3]


                The immigration authorities try to identify the nationality of everyone in local jails, as well as state prisons, and lodge immigration holds whenever someone appears deportable.  Even a traffic stop can bring someone to their attention.  It is also practically impossible for a foreign national to avoid coming to the attention of the immigration authorities even if they are not in custody.  You can’t get a Social Security card or driver’s license or job without proving lawful status.  Your green card – evidence of lawful permanent resident status – expires and the DHS will run a criminal history check before renewing it.  Any time you apply for an immigration benefit, such as a visa or other change of immigration status, they run a check.  The only safe haven is to become a United States citizen.  Then, you are absolutely safe from deportation (so long as you did not lie on the application).  Of course, the government runs a criminal history check before allowing someone to naturalize.  Many noncitizens want to go home to visit mom, especially if she is sick or dying, and the government will of course run a records check at the airport or other port of entry upon return.  The immigration officials at the airport have access to the NCIC, the immigration computer databases, and state criminal history databases as well, and many people with old criminal convictions who have traveled without problems for many years are popping up and being placed in removal proceedings.  Last, the immigration authorities are beginning to sit down in their offices, identify deportable noncitizens with their expensive new computer systems, and go out to knock on their doors at 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning to arrest them and start deportation proceedings.  The first program, Operation Predator, targets noncitizens convicted of child molestation-type offenses, but there is no reason they can’t move on from there down their priority lists.  The government is picking up practically everyone right now, and the situation is only getting worse.  We must assume that sooner or later, the government will nail everyone with a deportable conviction.


[1] U.S. Bureau of Citizen and Immigration Services “Enforcement, Fiscal Year 2001,” 2001 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. [Last updated April 14, 2003, retrieved on April 23, 2003.] Available from, p. 7.

[2] U.S. Bureau of Citizen and Immigration Services  “Removals from Fiscal Years: 1997-2002,” [last updated April 21, 2003, retrieved April 21, 2003.] Available from

[3] See DHS, Immigration Enforcement Actions: 2005, (last visited May 25, 2007).