Articles Posted in Removal/Deportation

Criminal defense lawyers don’t typically know anything about immigration law.  Immigration law is federal.  Most criminal defense attorneys practice only state law in state courts.  Even if they do practice in federal criminal courtrooms, it is a completely different area of law from immigration.  Asking a criminal lawyer about immigration law is kind of like asking a podiatrist about cataracts.  That is unless the lawyer practices in both fields, which is becoming more common.  The problem is that when you ask a lawyer about an area of law they don’t know anything about, they may give you an answer.  “Uh, I’m sure this conviction won’t hurt you.  You’ve been here 30 years.  You have a greencard.  Don’t worry about it.”  And that answer may not only be wrong; it may be dead wrong with deadly consequences.

Case in point – Jae Lee is going before the United States Supreme Court because his criminal defense attorney told him that his plea to Possession of a Controlled Substance with Intent to Distribute would not make him deportable.  Not only did it make him deportable, it is considered an aggravated felony and he has no form of relief to prevent his deportation.  His criminal defense attorney’s nonchalant dismissal of such a critical issue has led to a lifetime of catastrophic consequences for Mr. Lee, including being incarcerated for seven years while he fights his deportation.  If you’d like to learn more about Mr. Lee’s case, check out this wonderful article written by Manny Vargas from the Immigrant Defense Project.  Mr. Vargas provides a very detailed history of Mr. Lee’s case and discusses exactly how Mr. Lee went from thinking his criminal conviction would not lead to deportation to realizing he would not only be deported, but would be detained for many years while fighting that deportation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Many criminal defense attorneys do an amazing job of actually looking at the immigration statutes, calling up immigration lawyers, and sending their clients to immigration lawyers.  But many do not.  So, you should trust your criminal defense attorney, but verify.  Trust, but verify.  Ask your lawyer if they have any experience in immigration law.  Go seek the advice of an immigration lawyer. The consequences are too severe for you to leave it in the hands of an attorney who may view the immigration consequences as a collateral consequence of the plea, rather than a potential life shattering experience.

There has been great fear rising within immigrant communities regarding the new policies directed at certain non-citizens.  On January 25th, 2107, President Trump issued an executive order titled Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.  This Order provided guidance to federal agencies on how to implement certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Specifically, President Trump called for the targeting of non-citizens who 1) have criminal convictions, 2) have been charged with crimes even though the criminal court proceeding shave not been completed, and 3) have committed criminal acts that have not even been charged.  The Order addresses other individuals to be targeted.  It also calls for 10,000 additional deportation officers to be hired.

So how could this affect you, if you a non- U.S. Citizen.

Any criminal charge, no matter how minor, no matter how long you have been in the U.S., and no matter what your status is could lead to prolonged detention pending criminal and/or immigration proceedings and to deportation.  The law has not changed since President Trump took office, but the way it is implemented has.  It is still too early to tell just how drastic the change will be from the Obama administration, but it is clear that there will be change.

Cuban-Flag-behind-man-with-Suitcase-1024x692President’s Obama’s January 12, 2017 announcement about Cuban immigration policy changed the landscape for Cuban nationals. Along with all the official changes announced on January 12, 2017 on this subject, there was another document that contains two very important, but often overlooked paragraphs. The United States and Cuba released a “Joint Statement of the United States and Cuba on Changes to Migration Relationship with Cuba.” This statement contained two very interesting paragraphs that will effect not only Cubans coming to the U.S. on or after January 12, 2017, but Cubans who may have been in the U.S. for decades and already have a final order of removal/deportation, or will receive one in the future. This first paragraph is number 5 and it talks about the infamous Cuban “Repat List” that ICE keeps locked up in a safe somewhere in South Florida:

  1. The Republic of Cuba shall accept that individuals included in the list of 2,746 to be returned in accordance with the Joint Communiqué of December 14, 1984, may be replaced by others and returned to Cuba, provided that they are Cuban nationals who departed for the United States of America via the Port of Mariel in 1980 and were found by the competent authorities of the United States to have tried to irregularly enter or remain in that country in violation of United States law. The Parties shall agree on the specific list of these individuals and the procedure for their return.

When I worked for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, I spoke to ICE officers who swore the list actually exists and it is kept in a safe in a location I will not disclose. When ICE had a final order Cuban national in custody who was a “Marielito,” they would check the list to see if the person could be deported or “repatriated,” to Cuba. Obviously, not every Cuban national who came to Florida in the Summer of 1980 is on that list, and there are hundreds, if not thousands of Cubans who left the Port of Mariel in 1980 who are currently in the U.S. with a final order of removal or deportation.

Last week, President Obama issued the first major change in U.S. immigration policy towards Cubans in over 20 years. On January 12, 2017, President Obama announced that the 1995 immigration policy designed specifically for Cuban nationals, known as “Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot”, would be abolished immediately. That means that Cuban nationals arriving at air, sea and land ports would now be subject to expedited removal (they were not previously) and that the Cuban government has agreed to review Cuban nationals with final orders of removal on a case by case basis to determine if they would allow them to be deported to Cuba. In addition, Cubans who arrive in the U.S. without visas and without having been admitted or paroled will not receive special parole consideration. They will be considered for parole like any other foreign national. Parole is the primary way that Cubans become eligible to adjust status in the U.S. and get their green cards.

This is a major, major change to how the U.S. government treats Cuban nationals coming to, or attempting to come to the United States. No longer will they be welcomed into the air, sea and land ports, automatically given parole into the U.S., and a year and day later, be allowed to apply for adjustment of status under the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Just for background, the 1995 Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot Policy, enacted by President Clinton, restricted Cuban nationals, who would be paroled into the U.S. and allowed to apply for green cards, to those who actually made it to U.S. soil before immigration officers caught them. Previously, Cuban nationals caught on boats or rafts in the Florida Straits, on their way from Cuba to the U.S., were brought to the U.S. and paroled into the country, rather than being sent back to Cuba. Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot greatly limited the number of Cuban nationals who made it to the U.S.

Recently, multiple states have not only legalized the use of marijuana (aka cannabis, weed, pot, etc.) for medical use, but they have decriminalized possession of marijuana for recreational use. Following that trend in states that have not yet taken this action (Florida being one of them) local governments have made efforts to decriminalize simple possession of small amounts of this still federally controlled substance. The city of Orlando is currently contemplating just that action:

Volusia County (Daytona Beach) also recently voted to pass such a measure:

This is a question that many immigrants find themselves asking at some point in their journey to U.S. citizenship. I applied for a green card and they told me I have an order of removal, or I was arrested and immigration detained me and said I have an order of deportation. These are scenarios that happen on a regular basis. The way our immigration system works, many non-citizens who are living their lives in the U.S. have orders of removal and either don’t even know it, or are able to live their lives, but have the fear that their next appointment with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be the time they are detained and deported.

When someone has a final order of removal there can be many reasons for it. You may have gone through removal proceedings, fought your case and lost, appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals and lost and now you have a final order. You may have not even known that you were in removal proceedings and were ordered removed when you did not show up for a court date that you didn’t even know you had. Or you may have gone to court many times and for one reason or another, you had car trouble, you were in jail or you were scared, you did not show up for your final hearing and you were ordered deported. All of these are ways that people end up with orders of removal or deportation.

How you received your order of removal is a key factor in determining if an attorney can help you reopen your case and overturn that order of removal. If you fought your case all the way through and lost at every step, your chances of reopening your case and getting your green card back or having a chance at getting a green card a slim. However, that does not mean it is impossible.

The moment that a person receives a Notice to Appear from a federal immigration agency can be frightening and intimidating. You may ask yourself, why does the government want to deport me? What did I do wrong? How can they bring up that criminal case from a decade ago?

However, its important to remember that receiving an NTA (as we call it in immigration circles) is not the end of the world, in fact, sometimes it can be the best thing that can happen for some people. In this blog I will answer the following question, “I received a notice to appear, what do I do now?”

A Notice to Appear or NTA or Form I-862 as it is also called, is the notice to a non-citizen that one of the immigration agencies has decided that you have done something for which they think you should be deported. The agencies that can issue Notices To Appear are U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). These are all related agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security, but each serves a different function in that dysfunctional federal family.

Congress recently passed legislation that changes who is eligible to enter the United States through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). These changes are in reaction to the fears that terrorists and terrorist sympathizers will enter the United States exploiting the ease by which people can enter through the VWP.

The Visa Waiver Program was designed to allow citizens of certain countries to avoid the lengthy process by which most foreign nationals must apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. The normal process involves an application, a background check, an interview and sometimes more. Applications for short-term visitor or business visas are routinely denied. The Visa Waiver Program allows qualified citizens from 38 countries to avoid this process and with a quick online registration, obtain an electronic visa and admission into the United States for 90 days at a time.

This list of 38 countries changes often and usually only contains first-world countries that have low rates of people overstaying their visas, claiming asylum or otherwise abusing the visa process. Citizens from all over Europe, Australia, New Zealand and parts of East Asia enjoy the use of Visa Waiver admissions.

Last month I had the honor of speaking at the Florida Public Defender Association’s 30th Annual “Trial with Style Conference” in unfortunately rainy Fort Lauderdale. While in one of my former lives as a state prosecutor and I like to think I always tried my cases with style, during this conference I did not talk about anything specifically to do with trying a case.

My topic was “Crimmigration: the intersection of Criminal and Immigration Law.” Let me preface this piece with the following caveat; not all immigrants are criminals (sorry Donald Trump) and recent research has shown that foreign-born residents are less likely to commit serious and violent crimes than native-born citizens.

That being said, this subject is of great interest to most criminal defense attorneys in Florida. Florida has the fourth-highest foreign-born population in the U.S. Almost 20% of all residents in Florida were born in another country. Because Florida is now the third largest state with a total population of over 20 million, that means we have roughly four million foreign-born people living in Florida. Florida is also top 10 in the country in crime rate. You combine all of these factors, and you see why criminal defense attorneys need to know immigration law.

Over the last few months I had the opportunity to work with some fantastic immigration attorneys across the Southeast United States on a collaborative project. Our goal was to find, review and summarize every immigration-related and useful District Court and Circuit Court Case from the Eleventh Circuit and put them together in a newsletter. This was an enjoyable and educational experience. We expect to send out this newsletter every quarter and it will contain published and unpublished District Court cases from Florida, Alabama and Georgia and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

This would not be possible without the hard work of our multi-state team composed of Marshall Cohen, Roberta Cooper, Bruce Buchanan and myself, John Gihon. Here are the summaries of the District Court Cases for Alabama, Georgia and Florida. If anyone reading this newsletter has any suggestions, please contact me at or our editor, Bruce Buchanan at

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