Get the Facts

114th Congress

The House

  1. H.R.1148, the Michael Davis Jr. In Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement Act (SAFE Act)
    • Current Status: Reported by House Judiciary Committee on March 18, 2015; Awaiting House floor vote.
    • H.R.1148 Bill Text
    • Description: H.R.1148 represents an updated version of the 113th Congress’ SAFE Act, which would criminalize immigrant communities, drastically increase interior enforcement, and promote racial profiling. For materials regarding the SAFE Act, see the below.
    • IJN’s Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing H.R.1148
      Read IJN’s statement opposing H.R.1148
  1. H.R.1147, the Legal Workforce Act
    • Current Status: Reported by House Judiciary Committee on March 3, 2015; Awaiting House floor vote.
    • H.R.1147 Bill Text
    • Description: H.R.1147 offers a false promise to reduce unauthorized immigration through use of an electronic employment eligibility verification system. In reality, this legislation will economically harm millions of authorized workers, drive immigrants to the underground economy, and explode our nation’s budget deficit.
    • IJN’s Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing H.R.1148
      Read IJN’s statement opposing H.R.1147
  1. H.R.1149, the Protection of Children Act of 2015
    • Current Status: Reported by House Judiciary Committee on March 4, 2015; Awaiting House floor vote.
    • H.R.1149 Bill Text
    • Description: H.R.1149 removes the due process protections afforded to unaccompanied children from noncontiguous countries arriving in the United States.
    • IJN’s Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing H.R.1149

Read IJN’s statement opposing H.R.1149

  1. H.R.1153, the Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2015
    • Current Status: Reported by House Judiciary Committee on March 18, 2015; Awaiting House floor vote.
    • H.R.1153 Bill Text
    • Description: H.R.1153 drastically reduces due process and parole opportunities for a variety of vulnerable populations, including most DACA recipients, survivors of domestic violence, battered children, and others.
    • IJN’s Letter to House Judiciary Committee Opposing H.R.1153
      Read IJN’s statement opposing H.R.1153

113th Congress

The Senate

  1. S.744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013
    • Final Status: Passed Senate on June 6, 2013; Not enacted into law.
    • S.744 Bill Text
    • IJN’s Analysis of S.744
      Read IJN’s summary analysis of the Senate Immigration Bill (S.744). This includes an overview of the bill’s criminal disqualification bars to legalization, the expansion of criminal grounds of deportability, and an analysis of when an immigration judge or immigration law enforcement would be allowed to consider the individual circumstances of a person’s case before deporting them.
    • IJN’s S.744 Chart
      Read IJN’s chart detailing the sections of the Senate bill that will most impact immigrants who have had contact with the criminal justice system. Includes examples of who will be impacted.
  1. H.R.15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013
  • Final Status: Introduced on November 2, 2013; Not enacted into law.
  • H.R.15 Bill Text
    H.R.15 was the companion bill to S.744, which was introduced in the House of Representatives but never received a vote.

The House

  1. H.R.2278, the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement (SAFE) Act
    • Final Status: Reported by House Judiciary Committee on December 16, 2014; Not enacted into law.
    • SAFE Act Bill Text
      Read IJN’s SAFE Act analysis about how H.R. 2278, introduced by Rep. Trey Gowdy, is a cut and paste of prior enforcement-only bills that killed immigration reform efforts and led to record numbers of deportations.

On November 20, 2014, the Administration and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a series of memoranda outlining administrative fixes to our nation’s immigration system. Among these memoranda was an expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the creation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals


On June 15, 2012, the Administration announced DACA, an initiative which allows undocumented immigrants who came to the United States before the age of 16 and meet a series of other criteria to request and receive deferred action—a form of prosecutorial discretion that provides lawful presence—and employment authorization.

Criminal Ineligibility Grounds

To be eligible for DACA, an individual must not have a felony conviction, significant misdemeanor conviction, three or more misdemeanor convictions, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety. There are limited exceptions available for certain types of convictions.

Proposed Expansion

On November 20, 2014, the Administration announced an expansion of DACA, which removed the upper age cap and lengthened the grant of deferred action to three years, up from two. However, on February 16, 2015, a federal circuit court judge enjoined the expansion of DACA. Currently, the expansion is enjoined and the subject of litigation.

Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents


On November 20, 2014, the Administration announced the creation of DAPA, which would allow undocumented immigrants with U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) children, who fell outside the new enforcement priorities, and who met certain other requirements to request and receive deferred action and employment authorization. On February 16, 2015, a federal circuit court judge enjoined the implementation of DAPA pending the resolution of litigation brought by Texas and 26 other states in Texas v. United States.

Criminal Ineligibility Grounds

To be eligible for DAPA, an individual must not be an enforcement priority. There are three tiers of enforcement priorities, with multiple categories and limited exceptions. Criminal related priorities include conviction for or activity in gang related offenses, a felony conviction, an aggravated felony conviction, three or more misdemeanor convictions, a significant misdemeanor conviction, or individuals who otherwise pose a danger to national security.

Civil Enforcement Priorities

On November 20, 2014, DHS issued a memorandum that rescinded most previous memorandum dealing with enforcement and prosecutorial discretion and established a new set of civil enforcement priorities for the removal of immigrants. This new framework created a three-tiered system where individuals within the tiers would be subject to removal.

View CAMBIO infographic on due process

Download  IJN packet Allowing Judges to Judge: Restoring Due Process in Immigration Cases

Restoring Judicial Discretion

In the current bill and under certain proposed amendments, a wide range of criminal convictions, no matter how old or how minor, and regardless of the fact that time was already served in the criminal justice system, would block and immigrant from gaining or keeping her legal status.

Over the years, America’s attempts to toughen our immigration laws took away, in many cases, the ability of immigration law enforcement and judges to consider the individual circumstances of a person’s case.   An offense triggering the bars to legalization or deportation lasts forever, even if it was a mistake that occurred years ago.  Under the current Senate bill, there are only a few exceptions or waivers to overcome these bars.  The path to citizenship should allow the government to consider individual factors, such as family and community ties, the nature, seriousness, and other circumstances of the conviction, passage of time, medical conditions, and contributions to community and family.  The existence of a waiver does not mean that it will be granted. Waivers should be available in all cases to account for individual circumstances.

Immigrants should not be treated only as the sum of their mistakes in a nation that values second chances. Immigration judges must be given back the power to grant a second chance and cancel someone’s deportation after looking at other aspects of a person’s life. Judicial discretion must be restored and expanded, and limits must be made on the number and categories of offenses that would exclude long time green card holders’ ability to maintain legal status and undocumented individuals’ eligibility to pursue the path to citizenship.

  • Talking points about the need to restore judicial discretion

  • Fact Sheet on Waivers

  • Stories of People Impacted: The Bailey Family and The Sylvain Family

  • Other voices speak out for restoring judicial discretion

  • Blog post on waivers
  • Download PDF of  IJN packet Allowing Judges to Judge: Restoring Due Process in Immigration Cases


    Listen to NPR Story: Undocumented Immigrants With Criminal Record Face Uncertain Future by Robert Siegel (July 25, 2013)

    Download  IJN packet Expansion of Criminal Grounds Undermine Fair & Inclusive Pathway to Citizenship

    The Senate immigration bill puts forth a complicated and expansive list of crime-related obstacles to pursuing the path to citizenship. These bars will automatically disqualify and prevent thousands, if not millions, of deserving individuals from either pursuing or maintaining legal status, and will apply at all stages of the multi-year legalization process. Efforts to expand these already harsh exclusion grounds would undermine the goal of bringing immigrants out of the shadows and significantly curtail due process. Countless individuals will be denied basic due process safeguards such as an individualized hearing before a judge to present the circumstances of their case.



    Discriminatory gang provisions

    Disproportionately harsh DUI provisions

    Domestic violence provisions punish victims, too

    Expanding the harsh penalties for immigration-related offenses

    Download IJN packet Expansion of Criminal Grounds Undermine Fair & Inclusive Pathway to Citizenship

    PDF version

    General Messaging for Fair and Inclusive Reform that Restores Discretion and Curbs Criminalization

    • We need immigration laws that uphold American values of fairness and justice for all. The current system is ineffective and inhumane and continues to cause the unjust separation of thousands of families.
    • Aspiring citizens come to the United States to work hard and make better lives for their families.
    • Creating a common-sense immigration system that allows people to become citizens, pay taxes, and be full contributing members of our community will do more for America than expensive and impractical approaches like trying to deport millions of people.
    • We must bring the millions of aspiring citizens out of the shadows; we must ensure that long time residents who have built their lives here have the opportunity to get on the path to citizenship.
    • Federal reform must restore and expand judicial discretion and limit the number and categories of offenses that would exclude aspiring citizens from getting on the path to citizenship.
    • We don’t need Congress to pass one-size-fits all rules for automatic deportation that would end up sending away someone who was brought to the U.S. as a child or someone who served in the U.S. military, or committed a minor crime.
    • We should make it possible for more immigrants to become legal rather than expanding the reasons to deport them. Immigrants should not be treated only as the sum of their mistakes in a nation that values second chances.
    • Fair and effective law enforcement means everyone has the right to an attorney and the right to appear before a judge before being permanently banned from the US and separated from their families.
    • Let judges do their jobs. If an immigrant is accused of committing a crime, a judge should be able to consider the circumstances of the case and decide whether he or she should be deported.  A judge should be able to take into account family and community ties, including U.S. citizen children, contributions to community and family, length of residence in the U.S., military service, and the nature of the offense.
    • No one—not long time residents of the United States or recent immigrants—should be thrown in jail without a hearing before a judge or a lawyer to represent them. In America, everyone should get a fair day in court.



    meme_English_4sml  meme_v4_spanish

    View PDF of curriculum in English and Spanish

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    IJN sits on the Steering Committee of the CAMBIO (Campaign for Accountable, Moral, Balanced Immigration Overhaul). CAMBIO is a diverse group of organizations advocating for laws and policies that create a fair system for immigrants to become citizens; bans indefinite detention; allows due process for all Americans; makes enforcement systems accountable; protects civil and human rights; encourages a better border to protect the quality of life in the borderlands, prevents the abuse of vulnerable Americans; and keeps families together.

    Check out CAMBIO’s news page for updates about the immigration reform bill and CAMBIO’s amendment analyses. In addition, view CAMBIO’s March 2013 national poll on common-sense immigration reform.

    • Detention Watch Network – Read Detention Watch Network’s news updates and analyses detention-related provisions of the immigration bills before Congress.
    • Rights Working Group – Check out RWG’s Resources page with links to issue briefs and fact sheets on the racial profiling aspects of the Immigration bills before Congress.
    • American Immigration Lawyers Association – View AILA’s Immigration Politics 2013 page, which includes daily updates on the status of federal immigration reform bills and links to related articles, reports, and videos.
    • American Civil Liberties Union – Check out ACLU’s Immigration Reform 2013 page containing a summary analysis of the immigration reform bill, news updates, blog postings, and the ACLU Framework for Immigration Reform.
    • 1Love Movement – Visit the 1Love Movement website for immigration news and action alerts from a network of Asian American organizers.
    • Banished Veterans – Explore the stories and videos of immigrant soldiers facing deportation and find ways to help!
    • Families for Freedom – FFF is a New York-based multi-ethnic defense network by and for immigrants facing and fighting deportation.
    • United We Dream – Check out United We Dream’s news page, which focuses on the immigrant youth movement’s response to the immigration reform bills before Congress.
    • PICO National Network – PICO is a national network of faith-based community organizations working to create innovative solutions to problems facing urban, suburban and rural communities. Visit PICO’s Immigration Reform page and get involved with PICO’s Campaign for Citizenship.
    • American Families United – AFU represents American voters and future voters (permanent residents) who are sponsoring or have sponsored a spouse or child for immigration. Visit AFU’s Issues page and read analyses about the immigration reform issues on their agenda.
    • SEARAC is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. We envision a socially, politically and economically just society for all communities to enjoy for all generations.

    Reports and Statistics:

    Forced Apart (By the Numbers). Human Rights Watch.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE Total Removals through August 25, 2012.

    Unauthorized immigrant  population: national and state trends, 2010. Pew Research Center; 2011.

    The facts on immigration today: everything you need to know about our foreign-born population, current immigration policy, and the voting power of new Americans. 2012. Center for American Progress

    How today’s immigration enforcement policies impact children, families, and communities: a view from the ground.  Center for American Progress

    Facing our future: children in the aftermath of immigration enforcement. The Urban Institute; 2010. Available at: .

    U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Years 2011-2013.

    Deportations of Parents of U.S. Citizen Kids.

    The current immigration bill falls short of overhauling our broken immigration system. The heart of the bill is clearly the pathway to citizenship, but what’s missing from the conversation is the number of individuals who will actually be barred from this path. Provisions in the bill and several amendments up for debate further exacerbate the current denial of due process rights in the immigration system.

    These provisions aim to further exclude immigrants, both undocumented individuals and green card holders, leaving them off the path and without a fair day in court before facing permanent separation from their families.


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    FAQ Answers:


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    Who can be deported?

    The short answer:

    Any person who is not a citizen can be deported from the U.S.  Certain immigrants are particularly at risk for deportation.

    Immigrants with certain convictions can be deported, barred from adjusting their status to lawful permanent residency or prohibited from returning to the U.S. after a trip abroad. This includes:

    • Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs, or green card holders)
    • Asylees and refugees
    • People who have been granted withholding of removal or temporary protected status (TPS)
    • People who have applied to adjust their status
    • People on tourist, student, business, and other visas

    The types of convictions leading to deportation are very broad and even include offenses that the criminal judge considered minor enough to warrant no time in jail. This deportation is like a second punishment that happens after immigrants finish their criminal sentence and can happen years after the conviction.

    Undocumented Immigrants:

    Undocumented immigrants are deportable whether or not they have a conviction. However, any arrest or conviction will make them more likely to be discovered by Immigration and may also affect whether they can adjust their status. This includes:

    • People who “entered without inspection” – for example, walked across the border without going through immigration
    • People with old deportation orders – remember that some people may have old deportation orders, even if they don’t know it – for example, if a green card application was denied and person did not get notice that the government had started a deportation case
    • People who have overstayed a visa

    Can US Citizens be Deported?

    US citizens cannot be deported. However, the government can attempt to take away the citizenship of a naturalized citizen if they can show that her naturalization was gained through fraud – for example, if a person did not disclose an arrest or conviction on the naturalization application. A person whose citizenship is stripped may again be vulnerable to deportation.


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    How do immigrants end up in deportation proceedings?

    Where are immigrants most often detained?

    Everyday Locations: Workplaces, Homes, Streets, Buses, Trains…
    In late 2006, Immigration began conducting raids more aggressively. Immigration agents are now boarding Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains in some states (near and away from the border), demanding “status documents” and arresting those who cannot produce them. They are also arresting people on the streets, in their homes, and at their workplaces. Especially during home raids, Immigration often uses deceptive tactics to get non-citizens to open the doors to their homes (what Immigration will call “consent” to allow them to enter). They also often don’t obtain the proper judicial warrants necessary to legally enter homes and workplaces.

    Being Stopped by the Police

    Immigrants are now increasingly getting stopped for minor offenses – such as broken tail lights and minor traffic offenses – in communities where the police have decided to take on federal immigration enforcement duties. The police often use these stops to question people about their immigration status and to turn immigrants over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    A police stop is most likely to result in immigration involvement if the person has an old order of deportation – especially since the Department of Justice began entering this information into the National Crime Information center (NCIC) database, which is accessed by law enforcement. In addition, many jails and prisons participate in the Criminal Alien Program, through which ICE agents interview immigrants at local jails and lodge detainers preventing release from custody. Many also participate in ICE’s “Secure Communities” program, through which fingerprints of all arrestees are sent through a DHS database, flagging people for detainers. Some local governments have also entered into “287g agreements” with the Department of Homeland Security, which give them authority to enforce certain immigration laws.

    Through these policies and programs, green card holders with a past conviction or undocumented immigrants with no convictions may be turned over to ICE even if criminal charges are dropped, or the person is found not guilty of the criminal charges.

    After Leaving The Country and Trying to Reenter

    At an airport, seaport, or at land borders, Immigration agents may detain non-citizens if they have an old conviction (even a violation or misdemeanor), false papers, no status, or an old deportation order. Green card holders with old convictions are often detained at this trigger site – even if they have traveled outside the US many times since the conviction.

    When Applying For Citizenship, Adjustment Of Status, Asylum, or TPS

    Many immigrants with old deportation orders or past convictions are detained when they apply for legal status or citizenship. Some undocumented immigrants apply for benefits for which they do not qualify (for example, because of bad legal advice or to get a temporary work permit), putting them on immigration’s radar and at greater risk.

    During or Upon Finishing a Criminal Sentence (incl. Parole, Probation)

    Immigrants may be sent to ICE after completing a jail or prison sentence, or a drug rehabilitation or other alternative program. They may also be sent to ICE while on parole or serving a sentence of probation. ICE officials are increasingly coordinating with probation and parole departments.


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    Immigrants and the Criminal Justice System

    Why focus on immigrants who have contact with the criminal justice system?

    The criminal justice system is now the primary pipeline into the deportation system. This is as a result of local and state police now collaborating with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) on a regular basis. Through Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ACCESS) programs, police pass on information to ICE about suspected noncitizens in their custody and refer them to ICE for deportation. In the first quarter of 2010, 43 percent of noncitizens in immigration detention had had some kind of contact with the criminal justice system.

    Even though immigration laws have long penalized noncitizens with convictions, laws  passed in 1996 made deportation a mandatory minimum for both documented and undocumented immigrants who have had almost any kind of conviction. These enforcement programs have been created to funnel people from the criminal justice system into a deportation system that lacks fundamental fairness and due process. The result is that for many immigrants who have ever had contact with the criminal justice system, detention and deportation is now an unfair second punishment. In 2008, 37 percent of deportees were deported because of a criminal charge or conviction.

    Are people allowed to return to the US after being deported?

    Every year, deportations tear apart thousands of families, communities, and businesses. Naturally, many people want to return to the communities they were forced to leave behind. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to return to the US after being deported. Many people will never be able to return. In addition, if people who were previously deported return to the US without authorization, they can face strict criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

    Still, people who were deported can try to apply to the Department of Homeland Security for readmission. Furthermore, families in the United States can begin to collectively pressure the US government by leveraging the power of Congress members and the media, to reunite with their loved ones.

    People who have been deported face a number of obstacles in returning to the US. In order to return to the United States after being deported, you must overcome two barriers: First, you must have a basis to apply for permission to come to the US. Second, you must apply for and receive one or more waivers to remove any applicable bars to reentry. There are no “official steps” that, upon completion, will win return, and it does not happen often.

    Bar to Reentry*
    Unlawful presence in US for less than 6 months No Bar
    Unlawful presence in US for over 6 months & less than 1 year 3 years
    Unlawful presence in US for one year or longer 10 years
    Ordered removed on inadmissibility grounds 5 years
    Ordered removed on deportability grounds 10 years
    Ordered excluded/deported under pre-1996 laws 10 years
    Ordered removed two times 20 years
    Failed to attend removal hearing 5 years
    Ordered removed after a conviction for an aggravated felony Permanent

    What are alternatives to detention?

    Answer: Laws that require jailing thousands of immigrants while they fight their deportation cases are inhumane. Even in the criminal justice system, people facing charges can at least request bail. Many immigrants are transferred to for-profit detention centers thousands of miles from their homes, do not have access to lawyers, and are pressured to accept deportation to escape the deplorable conditions.

    Currently, ICE may select someone to participate in an alternatives to detention program (ATD). ATD means that someone is released from a jail or prison facility on conditions of supervision, employment verifications, home check-ins, call-ins, or an electronic monitoring device. Advocates have called on the government to provide less restrictive monitoring, including community-based alternatives.

    How are you selected to be in the alternatives to detention programs?

    Under the current law, ICE always decides who can enter the program. They currently do not use a screening tool, so it is in the discretion of a deportation officer to decide for whom an ATD would be appropriate.  A deportation officer can recommend release onto an ATD, but it is a supervisor’s decision to release under these conditions.  Guidance and a screening tool are being developed by ICE headquarters to standardize these decisions.


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    Common Terms Defined

    287(g) Agreement

    A Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between a local government and the Department of Homeland Security under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Under this agreement, ICE briefly trains local enforcement agents, who are then granted limited immigration enforcement authority to investigate, apprehend and/or detain deportable immigrants. The scope of authority that a 287(g) agreement gives to local governments depends on the specific agreement and is not supposed to override Constitutional and due process protections.

    Aggravated Felony

    A federal immigration category that includes more than 50 classes of offenses, some of which are neither “aggravated” nor a “felony” (for example, misdemeanor shoplifting with a one-year sentence, even if suspended). This term was first created by the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act to include murder, rape, drug trafficking, and trafficking in firearms or destructive devices. Congress expanded this term numerous times over the years, and most extensively in 1996. This is one of the government’s most powerful tools for deportation because it strips an immigrant of most choices in the deportation process. An immigrant – including a lawful permanent resident – who is convicted of an offense categorized as an “aggravated felony” is subject to mandatory detention (no bond) and virtually mandatory deportation (no possibility of applying for Cancellation of Removal or any other pardons or asylum).

    “Conviction” (for immigration purposes)

    Immigration courts define “conviction” broadly to include dispositions where: (1) a formal judgment of guilt was entered by a court, or (2) (a) a judge or jury has found the defendant guilty, the defendant has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and (b) the judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or restraint on the alien’s liberty to be imposed.  This broad definition has been held to even include some dispositions not considered a “conviction” by the criminal court, such as low-level violations and convictions that are vacated after successful completion of rehabilitation programs.

    Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT)

    Conviction or sometimes simple admission of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude may trigger deportation for some immigrants. This immigration law term-of-art has not been defined by Congress. It is a broad immigration category covering many types of offenses (includes many theft, fraud, drug, assault, sex, and some driving related offenses). Because it has no definition it is often difficult to determine what offenses might constitute a CIMT. Both of the inadmissibility and deportation grounds include CIMT provisions, so depending upon the circumstances, a conviction for an offense classified as a CIMT can trigger both inadmissibility and deportability.

    Criminal Alien Program (CAP)

    Through CAP – which has existed since the 1980s – ICE agents identify and screen inmates in jails and prisons and either initiate removal proceedings while people are still in criminal custody OR transfer people directly from jail or prison to ICE custody for removal proceedings. CAP agents rely on informal relationships with jails and prisons to gain access to and conduct interviews with noncitizens in criminal custody. These interviews can occur before or after a detainer has been issued to facilitate transfer to the detention and deportation system.


    ICE’s most effective tool to seal the pipeline from the criminal justice system to the deportation system. A detainer serves as a request to a jail or prison to hold a suspected noncitizen for ICE to pick up or to notify ICE when the jail or prison intends to release the person (for example, after criminal bail is paid the case is disposed of, or the criminal sentence has been served). Federal regulations provide that a jail or prison can hold someone for only 48 additional hours (not including weekends or holidays) based on an ICE detainer. However, jails and prisons frequently violate this 48-hour rule.


    People are detained at every step of the immigration “process:” (1) awaiting adjudication of asylum or adjustment applications; (2) picked up and jailed without charges; (3) pending immigration proceedings; (4) after being ordered deported, while ICE is actively trying to remove them; and (5) sometimes indefinitely, where ICE knows it may not be able to deport someone with an order of deportation.

    Mandatory detention (incarceration without the chance to apply for bond) applies to most people with past criminal convictions, asylum seekers, and all noncitizens considered “inadmissible” (people physically in the US, but never admitted legally at a port of entry). Detainees are housed in over 250 county jails, private prisons, and federal facilities nationwide, and are often held with the general criminal population.

    Detention transfers occur often from one part of the country to another, without regard for access to family and counsel.

    Grounds of Inadmissibility

    A category of legal bars that apply when a person seeks “admission.” i.e. usually at the time of applying for a green card, asylum, etc. Violations of the inadmissibility grounds can also be used against undocumented people in removal proceedings (as well as  LPRs returning to the U.S. after international travel). Inadmissibility bars and the specific RPI ineligibility bars are NOT the same, although they may overlap. Being deemed “inadmissible” means you have triggered a ground(s) of inadmissibility.

    Grounds of Deportability

    A category of legal bars that apply in removal proceedings when a person is accused of violating immigration laws after he or she has been legally admitted. Applies to anyone with legal status including LPRs, asylees, and people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Being deemed “deportable” means you have triggered the grounds of deportation.

    Illegal Reentry

    This is a federal offense criminalizing anyone who enters, attempts to enter, or is found in the U.S. after having been deported or denied admission. People who illegally reenter after having been ordered removed for an aggravated felony can face a criminal sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

    Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

    Green card holder. Can work and live here indefinitely, but can always be deported if she or he violates deportation (and some inadmissibility) grounds (such as getting convicted of certain crimes) – regardless of length of residence in U.S., family ties, and other favorable factors.

    Prosecutorial Discretion

    The authority of the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to not place a potentially deportable person in removal/deportation proceedings; suspend or even terminate a deportation proceeding; postpone a deportation; release someone from detention; or de-prioritize the enforcement of immigration laws against an individual because it does not serve enforcement interests.

    Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI)

    Registered Provisional Immigrant. The first step in the legalization process under S. 744. People applying for RPI status will face ineligibility bars and inadmissibility grounds.

    Secure Communities

    An ICE program that checks a person’s fingerprints against both immigration and criminal databases at the time of arrest or booking.  If a person is matched to a record indicating some immigration history, ICE and the jail are automatically notified. ICE then decides what enforcement action will be taken, including whether a detainer will be issued.


    An immigration judge or DHS (USCIS) official can, in certain circumstances, grant a waiver, which is like a “pardon,” to a qualifying person.  The person may have triggered grounds of inadmissibility and is ineligible to be granted lawful status or the person has lawful status and is in removal proceedings because they have triggered a ground of deportation. Allows the judge or official to weigh the individual circumstances of a person who qualifies to ask for a waiver. Current immigration laws contain a handful of limited waivers, each with its own set of qualifications. Many criminal convictions disqualify someone from even asking for a waiver. Even if eligible, waivers are tough to get.  For example, Immigration Courts handled nearly 400,000 cases in 2012, but less than 8,000 people were granted the most common type of waiver from deportation called “cancellation of removal.”

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