Can I Get a Green Card If I Have a Deportation Order?

You might think that a deportation order would ruin your immigration options but you would be surprised to find out that it’s not always the case.

Removal is the compulsory movement of an inadmissible or deportable alien out of the US based on a final order of removal. Deportation is the popular term for removal but, technically, deportation refers to the old process of removing an alien who was already in the US as opposed to exclusion which was the process for removing someone who was trying to enter the US. Deportation and exclusion proceedings no longer exist and were replaced by one unified process called removal proceedings.
A removal order becomes final when an Immigration Judge (IJ) has ordered an alien’s removal and the alien has not appealed. If an alien filed an appeal, the order becomes final when the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) has issued a decision affirming the IJ’s removal order.

To determine whether a final removal order would prevent an alien from getting a green card through adjustment of status, we must first find out whether this order was executed or not. A removal order was executed if immigration authorities actually removed an alien from the US. If a removal order was executed, an alien would not qualify for adjustment or even an immigrant visa through consular processing because such alien would be inadmissible due to his actual removal.

If a removal order was not executed, an alien would qualify for adjustment. However, if a removal order was entered in absentia, which means the alien failed to appear at his hearing, the alien would be barred from adjusting status for a period of 10 years after the entry of the removal order even if such order was never executed.

Let’s look at my client’s case as an example. In 1996, client arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport but immigration authorities initiated exclusion proceedings and paroled her into the US. In 1997, the IJ ordered her exclusion from the US but she never left. The exclusion order was unexecuted. In 2012, client’s US Citizen son turned 21 years old and promptly filed an immigrant petition for client. Client then applied for adjustment. We argued that she qualified for adjustment because her exclusion order was never executed. USCIS agreed with our position and approved client’s adjustment.

Let’s change the facts in my client’s case. If for example client was deported in 1997 after the issuance of her exclusion order. The following year, she returned to the US without inspection. In 2012, she applied for adjustment under INA 245(i). In this case, she would not qualify for adjustment because she was previously removed from the US. She would be inadmissible for entering the US after being deported. She would also be subject to a reinstatement of her prior exclusion order, which means that she’s not entitled to a removal hearing before an IJ because immigration authorities can deport her anytime based on the old exclusion order.

If for example, client did not appear at her 1997 hearing and the IJ ordered her exclusion, client would not qualify for adjustment for a period of 10 years from 1997 even if she never left and the exclusion order was never executed because the order was entered in absentia. If she applied for adjustment in 2005, her application would be denied because it was within 10 years from 1997. If she applied for adjustment in 2012, then she would qualify because it was beyond 10 years.

The other important matter you should remember when filing an adjustment application in a case where there was a prior removal order is to find out which agency has authority to consider the adjustment. It’s not enough to know that an unexecuted removal order is not a bar to adjustment.

If for example, you have an unexecuted removal order and you later applied for adjustment with USCIS, USCIS would deny your adjustment, not because you have a removal order but because the IJ has jurisdiction over your adjustment application since you were previously in removal proceedings. You must first file a motion to reopen your removal proceedings and then apply for adjustment with the IJ.

However, if you were paroled into the US during your last entry, you would be classified as an arriving alien. This means that even if you are in removal proceedings, the IJ has no authority to consider your adjustment application because only USCIS has jurisdiction over the adjustment of arriving aliens.

Applying for adjustment when you have a prior removal order is filled with dangerous possibilities. However, it’s worth a try when it’s your only option because the alternative of applying for an immigrant visa abroad might be even more difficult.

Atty. Charles Medina

Charles Medina practices immigration law. Visit his website at for more details. This article provides general information only and does not provide legal advice on any specific matter or predict the outcome of any legal matter. It does not invite or create an attorney-client relationship.

  1. Thank you for this information, this is great explanation of the adjustment process with pending unexecuted removal order! Now the last part of this explanation reveal a risk possibility, what could be the risks?

  2. does that mean after 10 years removal order are not valid unless the person has been removed?

    What happens if you have a removal order from 10+ years ago and you have TPS or deferred action status and you want to apply for advance parole? Would you be allowed to re-enter the United States?

    Can someone who was EWI who has TPS / deferred action and a removal order from 10 years + ago be able to leave the US – re-enter using advance parole and then adjust their status? Would they need to re-open and terminate their 10+ years old removal order first?

    Thank you for such a great article! Helped me understand a lot.

    1. Hey Dreamer87,
      I am a dreamer myself. I had a deportation order from 2003. This year on July I started applied for advance parole. My lawyer told me I could do that,but at my own risk. I took the risk and on November 24th of this year I was paroled into the U.S. at the LAX airport. It was simple and quick. The immigration officer didnt even asked any questions. He just stamped my passport and let me in. I hope this helps. Good luck!!! We Dreamers are risk takers!!!

      1. Hey dreamer12
        Wow thats great news!

        Just to verify you had a deportation order and you had not re-opened the case to administratively close or terminate your deportation order?

        Just want to make sure your deportation hearing was not admin closed or terminated when you left the country.

        Thank you so much for sharing!

        1. Just for the record, when I left the U.S., my deportation order was still pending since 2003. In other words, I left to Guatemala and came back with that pending deportation order under my name. Up to this point, my deportation oder is still pending. I have not done motion to reopen.

      2. Hi Dreamer87,

        Your story is interesting. So how did you get your AP? Had you reopened your removal case when you got the AP? Was your removal cancelled before you got your AP? How long did you stay outside the US? Were you allowed to re-enter without any issue? I am interested in getting details because I am reopening my case and I want AP asap. Thanks

  3. I’m trying to petition for my wife we had an i130 interview on 11/9/17 which my wife was not present due to her having a removal order since 2012 that we didn’t know about until 2015 when we talked to an attorney I have since dropped my attorney I don’t think they want to help us I have 2 misdemeanor domestic violence harassment class 3 against my wife in Colorado I don’t know if this is a deterrent in me being able to sponsor her uscis said the case is still pending under review doing back ground checks

  4. I had a removal order 16yrs ago that was never executed, my son is almost 22yrs old now and I’m desperate to file for change of status, how is that possible?

  5. I been in and out of prison I got final removal on 2004 I been in the state since then cause they can’t obtain a passport for me. It’s 2020 can I get my green card back anytime soon? Someone please help

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