Deportation Station: How the United States Decides Who Stays and Who Goes

The posts below are brief summaries of 14-week research projects designed and carried out by our student team. tPP plans to release the full studies as peer-reviewed publications in the future.

Deportation Station: How the United States Decides Who Stays and Who Goes

Zoe Belford

My paper assessed what conditions lead to an increased likelihood of deportation following a guilty verdict in a United States terrorism prosecution, as well as if and how this relates to post-9/11 national security policy.  My sample included all cases in the Prosecution Project’s database that included a defendant with foreign citizenship, as well as had ended in a guilty verdict. This resulted in a sample size of 306, which I divided into two subsamples – cases which ended in deportation and cases which did not. Using these two samples,  I conducted a descriptive statistical analysis to find if any notable differences existed between the two groups.

My findings were as follows. Compared to non-deported defendants, deported defendants were:

    • Less likely to have a case involving a co-defendant
    • Less likely to have been charged with a previous similar crime
    • More likely to have completed the crime they were charged with
    • Less likely to have their case involve an informant
    • Less likely to be affiliated with a foreign terrorist organization
    • Have, on average, significantly lower sentence lengths
    • More likely to have an unclear ideological affiliation
    • Less likely to have an affiliation with a Salafi/Jihadist ideology
    • More likely to be Middle Eastern/North African

All of these findings hold the potential for further research, but I focused on the variable of foreign terrorist organization (FTO) affiliation. I found that deported defendants are known to be FTO-affiliated in only 35% of cases, whereas non-deported defendants are known to be FTO-affiliated in 72% of cases.

During my research for this project, I came across a theory that seemed particularly applicable to my observed findings. Based in economic and national security studies, mosaic theory posits that bits of intelligence can be pieced together by hostile parties (i.e. foreign intelligence agencies, foreign terrorist organizations) to form a picture of US intelligence practices and knowledge [1]. Since 9/11, this theory has played a significant role in the United States court system. Specifically, it was used to justify the classification of documents regarding the detainment of over seven-hundred people in regards to September 11th [2]. Based on my findings, I hypothesize that that the government is choosing to keep defendants who are more intertwined with known terrorist organizations within the country to avoid the potential intelligence risks of a deportation hearing. Deportation hearings can only be closed in a select number of circumstances [3], whereas the precedent to use mosaic theory to justify the classification of criminal proceedings has already been set.


[1] Neuman, Gerald L. 2005. “Discretionary Deportation.” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal 20: 611–56.

[2] Pozen, David E., James E. Baker, Jessica Bulman-Pozen, Fadi Hanna, Kenneth Levit, John Sims, and David Vladeck. 2005. “The Mosaic Theory, National Security, and the Freedom of Information Act.” Yale Law Journal.

[3] “Fact Sheet: Observing Immigration Court Hearings.” 2015. Department of Justice. February 10, 2015.

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