Stories of illegal immigrants who are arrested in the U.S. Virgin Islands regularly appear in the media. But what happens to these immigrants once they are apprehended on U.S. soil?
Several different avenues can be taken, depending on which country the person is from and whether they have a prior criminal record.
Once captured, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes custody of the illegal immigrant.
We do a series of checks of national databases to ensure that the person does not have a criminal history, or ties to a terrorist organization, and to make sure that theyre not a criminal alien, or a threat to public safety, and that they dont have outstanding warrants, said ICE spokesperson Ivan Ortiz. Once we determine that the person does not have a criminal history, they are transferred to a detention center.
Immigrants captured in the U.S.V.I. are sent to the Aguadilla Detention Center in Puerto Rico.
In the best case scenario, an immigrant will spend anywhere from 48 to 72 hours in the detention center, while their release is processed.
If the person does not have a criminal history, they are given an immigration benefit called voluntary departure, said Ortiz. This means that the person can apply for a visa to come back to the United States legally once they return to their home country. 95 percent of the time, when the person is given voluntary departure, the time they are detained depends on how fast our agency can obtain their travel documents from the consulate.
The U.S. government pays for illegal immigrants return trips to their home country.
Voluntary departure is not extended to persons who have a criminal record or who may have committed crimes while in the U.S. They are usually deported.
When a person is deported, they are inadmissable to the U.S., unless they request permission to come back, and permission is granted.
Some immigrants are never admissible to the U.S. following deportation.
It depends on the crime the person committed, said Ortiz. There will be instances when the person will be inadmissable. An aggravated felon is inadmissable forever.
Notice to Appear
In cases where an illegal immigrant does not represent a threat to public safety, he or she may be served with a notice to appear and be released.
The person comes back to face the immigration judge, said Ortiz. This is done with people who do not represent a threat or flight risk. However, there have been instances when they never come back.
When this happens, the person is deported in absentia and considered a fugitive.
Those who do appear before a judge, may be granted permission to remain in the U.S., according to Ortiz.
The judge will determine if the person can stay in the states, said Ortiz. If the judge determines that the person is not going to be deported, that person continues his or her residence in the U.S.
Immigrants may also be given permission by the immigration judge to work, he added.
Cuban Adjustment Act
Cubans endure a different process because of the Cuban Adjustment Act. If a Cuban national is apprehended in the U.S. or any of its territories, they can apply for adjustment of status one year after admission to the U.S., provided they meet requirements including a clean record.
This act provides for a special procedure under which Cuban nationals or citizens, and their accompanying spouses and children, may obtain a haven in the United States as lawful permanent residents, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigra-tion Services Web site.