The United States immigration system contains millions of pending applications at any given time. Although many immigrants throughout the United States ultimately submit their applications to obtain lawful permanent residence (i.e., a “Green Card”) or other immigration benefits to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), the Immigration Courts located in the Executive Office for Immigration Review (an office within the U.S. Department of Justice) present a very different, surprising, and far riskier path to lawful permanent residence: removal proceedings.
Without a doubt, being placed in removal proceedings and facing deportation from the United States is probably one of the greatest fears of any immigrant in the United States. If the Government succeeds in its case against an immigrant in removal proceedings, the Immigration Court will order the immigrant removed from the United States and, with only few exceptions, the immigrant will be transported back to their native country. Immigrants placed in removal proceedings because of criminal charges brought against them in the United States may even be placed in federal custody and detained for the duration of their removal proceedings, rendering it difficult or impossible for them to re-connect with their loved ones while their removal proceedings are ongoing, and their ability to secure legal counsel and obtain the necessary evidence to support their defense may be substantially impaired. Indeed, for nearly all immigrants currently residing in the United States – lawfully or otherwise – the possibility of being placed in removal proceedings is a scenario that cannot be described as anything other than truly horrifying and disastrous, as their removal from the United States will mean separation from their families, an end to the life they have built for themselves over a period of months or years, and a return to dangerous or unhealthy living conditions in the country they hoped to flee, leave behind forever, or never return to.
As difficult as the removal process is for countless immigrants, the current legal landscape does provide a little-known silver lining to the removal process: certain immigrants can acquire lawful permanent residence status and a Green Card by obtaining a form of relief known as cancellation of removal in a removal proceeding. Indeed, in certain circumstances, not only can immigrants prevail in their removal proceeding and avoid deportation from the United States – they can actually obtain a Green Card at the conclusion of the proceeding and be admitted to stay in the United States permanently when there would have otherwise been no other avenue available to obtain a Green Card.