US Immigrants, Deportation and the PIC
By Martha Escobar, Legal Representative for the Compañeras Team
In addition to serving their prison sentence, migrants incarcerated in the U.S. for ?aggravated felonies? face deportation to their countries of origin. The
1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act
(IIRIRA) ordered immigration enforcement authorities to deport noncitizens
convicted of an aggravated felony and expanded its definition. Actions that
carry a one year sentence, including misdemeanors such as shoplifting,
are considered ?aggravated felonies? and are applied retroactively. This has resulted in an increase in the number of people classified and deported as
?criminal aliens.? The retroactive application of the re-definition of what is considered an ?aggravated felony? transformed thousands of migrants into ?deportable criminal aliens,? and a ?criminal alien identification system? was developed to locate migrants with priorconvictions who were now deportable.
This applies to legal residents and undocumented migrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the government agency responsible for immigration detention and ?removal,? places an immigration hold on migrants in state or federal prisons. During migrants? imprisonment,
ICE officials visit individuals and ask them to sign a voluntary departure,
which means that the individual relinquishes their right to legal help and an immigration hearing. ICE has 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays)
to pick up the person at the end of their sentence.
While it is difficult for imprisoned migrants to fight their deportation, people should consult an immigration attorney to understand their options, especially if they had legal status prior to their imprisonment and if they have children
in the care of the state. If a person decides not to sign a voluntary departure
and asks for a hearing with an immigration judge, they can be held indefinitely while the judge determines whether they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. If
the person signs a voluntary departure, they are usually picked up by ICE, or, if ICE makes an agreement with the holding facility, the individual can be held at that facility and ICE assumes the costs of paying for their detention.
The length of time a person is held in immigration detention varies greatly. One factor that contributes to a person?s stay in detention is the amount of time it
takes for ICE to obtain travel documents from their country of origin.
Additionally, most people are
transported to their countries of
origin through the Justice Prisoner
and Alien Transportation System
(JPATS). The length of detention
of migrants is informed by the
number of detainees held for specifi
c countries. Sometimes people
can wait up to several months before
a fl ight is arranged for their
particular country of origin. Migrants
of Mexican origin, because
the US is so near Mexico and there
are so many migrants from Mexico,
are usually transported within
a few days after the end of their
sentence. As a general rule, the
government must deport detainees
within six months of being held in