Findings are based upon a detailed analysis of the millions of records covering each deportation proceeding initiated by the Department of Homeland Security and its predecessor agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, in the Immigration Courts. These individual case records were obtained through requests made by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) under the Freedom of Information Act to the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), a unit within the Department of Justice in which these administrative courts are housed.
These courts were established by Congress to conduct deportation proceedings and decide "whether foreign-born individuals, who are charged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with violating immigration law, should be ordered removed from the United States." Legal terminology has changed over time when referring to deportation, and the terms "deportation" and "removal" are used in a generic sense — whether legally labeled as removal, deportation, or expulsion based upon inadmissibility grounds.
To initiate a removal proceeding, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) files a charging document, called a "Notice to Appear," in any one of these Immigration Courts. This charging document orders the individual to appear before an Immigration Judge and provides notice of the specific immigration violations ICE alleges support its request for the deportation order. An individual can be charged with more than one immigration violation.
What is Counted
Deportation Proceedings. Counts are based upon each new government filing that begins a deportation proceeding, and dates are based upon the initial filing date. To eliminate double counting, subsequent court proceedings based upon the same charging document are excluded. Thus, these counts differ from those for "new proceedings received" since the Immigration Courts frequently open a new numbered proceeding when a case is transferred or venue is changed, or a case is remanded back to the court following an appeal, or a proceeding is reopened at the request of either party. Also, only deportation proceedings are included, i.e., those in which DHS files a "Notice to Appear."
Deportation Outcomes. Counts are based upon each case an Immigration Court completes and the date of the judge's decision or administrative closure. Again, actions that close a case in one Immigration Court in order to transfer it to an Immigration Court in another city, as well as changes in venue, are not treated as closures. Percents are then calculated based upon whether the Immigration Judge orders the individual deported, such as through issuing a removal order or an order of voluntary departure (see glossary), or the individual is allowed to stay in the country.
Examples of reasons why an individual may be allowed to remain in the country include situations where the judge finds the charges against the individual are not sustained (or the government requests that the charges be dropped), as well as where the judge finds other provisions in the immigration law entitle the individual "relief" from removal. A person also may be allowed to remain because the government requests that the case be administratively closed.
Under a range of provisions of the law, rather broad grounds are given for deportation or removal on either national security or terrorism grounds. To be deported for terrorism, for example, it is sufficient if "a consular officer or the Attorney General knows, or has reasonable ground to believe" that the individual "is likely to engage after entry [in the United States] in any terrorist activity."
In addition, a noncitizen is deportable if they have committed criminal acts listed in the immigration laws. But conviction is not always necessary. Under certain sections of immigration law, for example, it is only required that the officer "know [...] or have reason to believe" that the individual has engaged in an illegal criminal activity."
Noncitizens also are deportable if they have violated the immigration rules; for example, entered the country illegally, entered legally but overstayed their visas, or violated other procedural requirements.
Finally, although relatively rarely invoked, there are a number of so-called miscellaneous provisions in the law. These include "failure to meet labor certification requirements," having a "communicable disease of public health significance" and being "likely to become a public charge" or a "practicing polygamist." While these are included in the totals, they are not separately shown.
Based upon the records of the Immigration Courts, TRAC classified each of these removal proceedings, starting with those in FY 1992 and continuing to the present, on the basis of the particular charges that the government brought. Since each individual could face multiple charges, individuals were classified into categories according to their most serious deportable charge. Classification is based upon charges filed, and does not require that the charges ultimately be sustained.
In accordance with the DHS's announced priorities, in descending order of seriousness, these categories were: highest (terrorism), next highest (national security), middle high (criminal-aggravated felon), middle (other criminal), low (miscellaneous) lowest (immigration). Entry without inspection is a subclass within the immigration category if no other charge was present.
This table lists each of the actual statutory provisions the government used as the basis for seeking a deportation order during the post-9/11 period (FY 2002 - FY 2011), along with the frequency with which each was relied upon. Because the government may file multiple charges to support a single deportation request, the table reflects the frequency with which each charge was used, not the number of individuals charged. To read the full text of these provisions, see 8 USC 1182 and 8 USC 1227. See also September 2011 TRAC Report.
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Additional TRAC Immigration Enforcement Data and Tools
To access additional data using other TRAC immigration enforcement tools, go to this directory of data tools.