Deportation Legal Information


Deportation lawyers help people who are in the process of deportation, which is formally called removal. Deportation lawyers advocate for their clients in court hearings, advise them of their rights and work to keep clients from being removed from the country. They have a very specialized practice, because deportation isn’t usually handled by the same courts that handle routine criminal and civil matters. There are special immigration judges who handle removal orders and related matters, like petitions for asylum.

Until 2002, the Immigration and Naturalization Service handled deportations. Now, the federal agency that handles deportations is the Department of Homeland Security. At removal hearings, that department must prove that the person charged is in the United States unlawfully.


Anyone who is not a U.S. citizen can be deported for certain violations. That includes green card holders and people who are married to citizens. However, it isn’t automatic in many cases. Authorities may not notice that the people in front of them aren’t citizens, or they may choose not to pursue deportation for non-citizens.

Non-citizens can be deported for:

  • Being in violation of immigration laws. This includes overstaying a visa as well as entering illegally, having false papers, a fraudulent marriage and other violations.
  • Being an inadmissible alien -- someone who doesn’t meet the requirements to enter the U.S. This usually means you have a serious criminal conviction, a serious physical or mental disease or are a Nazi or terrorist. This is true for people turned away at the border as well as people who were later found to have lied on their paperwork.
  • Committing a serious crime or one considered immoral. This includes domestic violence, not paying taxes and drug use as well as aggravated felonies.
  • Having an old deportation order that was never enforced.


At the beginning of the process, you’ll receive a written notice notifying you of the deportation, also called removal. This notice should also tell you that you have a removal hearing, a court procedure at which you can tell a judge why you think you should be allowed to stay. If you skip this hearing, the judge can decide to deport you in your absence. After that, it’ll take ten years before you’re eligible to fight your case through the court system. Some people who are subjects of removal hearings are taken into immigration detention, while others are allowed to stay at home until the hearing.

If you want to fight the deportation, you’ll have a chance at this hearing to tell the judge why you don’t qualify to be deported. You can also agree that you’re in the U.S. illegally, but claim that you should stay anyway. If you can afford it, you should seriously consider hiring a deportation lawyer. Look for someone who specializes in deportation and immigration matters. Unfortunately, having a lawyer is not considered a legal right in immigration court like it is in criminal court. That means people who can’t afford a deportation lawyer usually can’t get one appointed by the court, although there are a few exceptions. You may be able to get free legal help from a nonprofit organization.

If you believe you don’t have a chance of staying in the United States after the hearing, you might choose to leave voluntarily rather than be deported. You can ask to do this at your hearing or get help from a deportation lawyer to do it earlier. People leave voluntarily because it makes them eligible to re-enter the U.S. whenever they can get a visa. If you’re deported, you’ll be barred from re-entering the U.S. for at least five years, and up to 20 if you were deported because you were convicted of a serious crime.



There are a few reasons a judge might decide to let you stay in the United States:

  • The government made a mistake, and you don’t qualify for deportation.
  • You’ve lived in the United States for many years, are of good “moral character,” at least one family member is a citizen or lawful permanent resident, and removing you would be a significant hardship for you or your family.
  • You’ve been in the United States for less than a year and are entitled to asylum from persecution in your home country based on race, religion, nationality, political beliefs or membership in a persecuted social group.
  • You’re a lawful permanent resident who committed a crime, but you’re entitled to a waiver because the crime wasn’t that serious, or deporting you would be more harmful than letting you stay.
If you’re fighting deportation, you should try to show the judge that you’re personally tied to the United States. You can do that by showing that you have a family here, especially if your family members are citizens or lawful permanent residents; that you’re the main breadwinner for your family; that you’re financially self-supporting; that you have not committed any serious crimes; that you’re involved in your community; and that you’re applying for a visa, lawful permanent residence or citizenship. A deportation lawyer should be able to help you find ways to show the court you’re a good candidate to stay.



Yes! In fact, there is a special process for appealing immigration cases, which is different from appealing normal criminal or civil cases. After your immigration hearing, your first step is to appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. This, like immigration court, is a special administrative court that only hears appeals of immigration matters. During this time, you may be detained (held in custody) by immigration authorities, or you may be released, depending on whether the court believes you might flee.

If the BIA rules against you, you can appeal its decision to the federal appeals court in your area. That’s the same court that handles appeals of other criminal and civil matters. You may appeal the appeals court’s decision as well, but those appeals go to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court takes very few immigration cases, and will focus on those that it believes can add to or improve United States law.

If you’re considering an appeal, it’s important to realize that this can take a very long time and be very expensive. During that time, you may be held in detention. For that reason, not everyone chooses to pursue a deportation case through the court system. However, if you do, you should hire a deportation lawyer who can help you maximize your chances of success.


Detention isn’t called jail, but it’s similar. People in immigration detention aren’t free to leave and handle their own cases. And, as with, jail, you can pay bail to get the person released temporarily. It can take a few weeks before a judge can hold your loved one’s immigration hearing.

In order to help, you can do the following things:

  • Make sure you and the detained person both understand the detainee’s rights. The detainee usually has the right to a hearing, the right to remain silent, the right to refuse to allow a warrantless search and the right to talk to a lawyer or your home country’s embassy before answering any questions or signing anything. If the government wants to move the detainee far away from his or her lawyer, detainees have the right to contest it.
  • Keep originals or copies of every document related to the case. That includes the removal hearing notice, all immigration papers, photo ID and passports, birth and marriage certificates and anything showing the detainee’s employment and good standing. If there’s a criminal record involved, keep a copy of this as well.
  • If it’s financially possible and available, you can pay the detainee’s bail. You’ll get that money back at the end of the case, no matter what the outcome, as long as the detainee doesn’t leave town.
    Advocate for the detainee if there’s been an unusually long delay before the hearing, or if authorities try to transfer him or her away from family and a deportation lawyer. You can call authorities directly or have the lawyer do it.
  • Hire a deportation lawyer. This increases your chances of successfully fighting the removal. It’s very important to find someone who specializes in deportation (or “removal”) cases, because they’re very specific and often complicated. If you’re not sure where to look, call your state or local bar association or the American Immigration Lawyers Association for a referral. If you can’t afford a lawyer, you may be able to get help through a local legal aid organization or one that specializes in immigration matters. In a few cases, the Department of Justice can help.


Deportation lawyers generally charge by the hour. You can expect to be charged a few hundred dollars per hour, with a total cost of at least several thousand. The more you appeal your case, the more expensive the case will be.

Deportation lawyers usually set a fee of a few hundred dollars for an initial consultation, a meeting at which they learn about your case and give you some basic advice. For that reason, it’s best to make sure the deportation lawyer you’re visiting has a good reputation. You can usually check up on him or her through word of mouth, by calling your state bar association or by using a local bar group’s referral service. Beware of non-lawyers pretending to be lawyers -- they can’t help and are breaking the law.