In the past, immigration authorities often gave people a chance to regularize their immigrant status when faced with a deportation order. This was especially true when the order was old and the immigrant had a good chance of qualifying for legal status. For example, old deportation orders were often lifted when the immigrant was married to a U.S. citizen, as long as that marriage was validated by immigration authorities.
More recently, the government has taken more of a hardline approach. In numerous cases, people suffering from old deportation orders have been arrested at routine check-ins with immigration authorities and deported immediately. Others have been taken into custody at their marriage interviews -- even when their marriages are approved.
Some immigration attorneys have even advised these clients not to attend marriage interviews, even though that could mean giving up on years of progress toward a green card.
Take the case of Fabiano O., an immigrant from Brazil. He had been with his wife Karah for eight years and had a five-year-old son when he sought to have his marriage validated. As a lawful permanent resident, he would be able to do things most people take for granted. He could get a bank loan. He could travel by air. He could take his family to Disney World.
He had plenty of evidence that his marriage to Karah was legitimate, and he had no criminal record. He also had a 13-year-old deportation order on his record.
His marriage was approved. At the very interview where it was approved, he was taken into custody by ICE.
"He got caught because he was trying to do the right thing," said his wife. "It was like a setup."
Immigration officials say that previous policies that were lenient about old deportation orders were simply too indulgent. Anyone with an active deportation order, they say, is fair game for deportation.
That may be true, but there are limited resources available to deport people and choices must be made. In the past, the U.S. has focused those resources on people with criminal records or who were identified as active security threats. People who had built families, careers and communities in the U.S. were considered low priority. Now, it seems the priority may be to deport those who are easiest to locate, which often means those who have appointments or hearings with immigration authorities.
If you have an old deportation order, you should discuss your situation with an immigration law attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can consider your specific situation and advise you about whether to risk attending an immigration meeting or hearing. All meetings with immigration lawyers are strictly confidential.