What Crimes Are Eligible for Deportation? A Noncitizen Can Become Deportable Even if He or She Already Served the Sentence for the Crime Years Before
Sylvester Owino, 40, said he survived torture in Kenya as a young activist and came to the US on a student visa, which ran out. A 2003 robbery conviction in San Diego resulted in a nine-year stint in a detention facility. Now, he is part of a US Supreme Court case that will determine whether immigrant detainees have a right to a bond hearing.
The two situations illustrate the variety of crimes that can get immigrants detained and deported, even after they have served a jail or prison sentence for the crime — and even if they are in the country legally. And while the federal government says it targets noncitizens who are serious or repeat offenders, immigrants with minor offenses often are deported.
Immigrants with criminal records may soon come under increased scrutiny. Republican President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to immediately deport "the people that are criminal and have criminal records." There are, he said, "a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country."
Immigration advocates say those numbers are inflated, and point to figures that indicate most immigrants are being deported for minor crimes or for no crime at all.
First-generation immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than do US citizens. But for those who do commit crimes, it’s hard to get a clear picture of whether they are serious or misdemeanors, violent or nonviolent.
Since 2014, the Department of Homeland Security has prioritized deporting noncitizens who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security — and from October 2014 through September 2015, of the 235,413 people who were deported, 59 percent had criminal convictions.
But federal data on criminal deportees does not specify the crimes they've committed — or how many of them are undocumented. Technically, if someone is undocumented and entered the country after January 2014, they are considered a high priority for criminal deportation, even if they have committed no other offense.
Further complicating matters: what constitutes a "criminal alien" is not defined in US immigration law or regulations, and is used broadly, according to a September report by the Congressional Research Service. A criminal alien may be someone who is undocumented or an authorized immigrant who may or may not be deportable, depending on the crime they have committed. He or she may be incarcerated or free, or have already served time.
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