If you are living in the U.S. as a non-citizen, whether legally or illegally, you can be deported (removed) from the country for a number of reasons. If you have received a Notice to Appear (NTA)—the document that signals the initiation of removal proceedings—contact an immigration attorney, and act fast. Time is of the essence. If you are deported, gaining re-entry to the country in the future becomes highly unlikely.

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According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a total of 256,085 people were deported in the fiscal year 2018, up 13 percent from the previous year. Of those deported, 5,914 were undocumented immigrants, 5,872 had suspected gang involvement, and 42 were suspected of terrorism. But a non-citizen doesn’t have to commit a crime to get deported. If, for example, you have stayed in the country past your visa’s expiration date, you are at risk of deportation.

You have options

If you have been convicted of a felony offense, your options for staying in the U.S. are severely limited. However, if your offense was a low-level crime or if your only transgression was being in the U.S. illegally, you may be able to avoid deportation. According to Davorin Odrcic, an attorney with Odrcic Law Group, LLC in Glendale Wisconsin, at the very least, a person placed into removal proceedings should meet with an immigration lawyer to discuss all defenses and potential forms of relief.

“Whether an individual has any viable defense will depend on a number of factors, including how and why that person was placed into proceedings, immigration status, length of time in the United States, family ties in the U.S., criminal record, and whether there is a basis for fearing being harmed in the home country,” Odcric says. “Immigration law is incredibly complex, and it would behoove a person placed into immigration court to at least discuss the strengths and weaknesses of any defenses from deportation."

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to apply for asylum. According to U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, men and women come to the United States seeking asylum for fear they will be persecuted for any of the following:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

Cancellation of removals

You may also be eligible for something called a U visa, which is for foreign nationals living in the U.S. who have been victims of criminal activity. Alternatively, you may be able to adjust your immigration status and apply to have the removal canceled. However, applying to have the removal canceled is difficult and you must meet certain requirements to do so, writes Joshua L. Goldstein, an immigration attorney based in Boston, Massachusettes.

According to Goldstein, these eligibility requirements specify the following:

  • You must have continuously spent the last 10 years in the United States;
  • You must have good moral character;
  • You must not have been convicted of certain deportable offenses; and
  • Your deportation would constitute excessive and unusual hardship.

Excessive and unusual hardship is also a particular case, which you may or may not qualify for. “To meet this standard, you must show that your deportation would cause your child, spouse or parent to suffer a hardship, which would be substantially worse than the hardship normally expected from deportation to an underdeveloped country,” Goldstein says. “Mere economic hardship wouldn’t qualify under this restrictive standard.”

A lawyer will be in the best position to work out which options you are and are not eligible for when fighting your deportation. If you are facing deportation, it is in your best interest to consult with an immigration lawyer without delay.

Keep records

If you have established yourself in the U.S., deportation can thrust your life into complete chaos. Everything is in jeopardy—your home, job, bank accounts, benefits, even your children. As such, it is essential that you obtain written records pertaining to all of the above. If deported, this information can help to ensure that you have access to accounts, get paid any outstanding wages, and that your children are cared for based on your wishes. An experienced immigration attorney can help you draw up these legal documents to ensure that your wishes are carried out if deportation becomes imminent.

A lawyer can also help to ensure that you don’t make any mistakes with your finances and assets. For example, is it a good idea or a bad idea to refinance your home to liquidate the equity, or to move your savings into an offshore account? An experienced immigration attorney can help you sort through myriad options and determine what works best for you.

Remember that once you have been deported, you are ineligible for re-entry into the U.S. for anywhere from five to 20 years. And, while you can apply, legal re-entry after deportation is rarely an easy process. The best advice is to not do anything to get yourself deported. If you are facing removal proceedings, a skilled immigration attorney can make all the difference in the world.