Helping a Detained Immigrant

The sudden detention of a loved one is a tremendously difficult experience for a family.  Despite the urgency of the situation, it is important to remember that deportations typically take weeks, if not months.  This section will outline some steps that you can take to locate someone in detention and understand how to advocate for them.

1. Who can be deported? The first step in helping someone in detention or deportation proceedings is understanding their immigration status and the reason that they might be deportable. More on who can be deported and where immigrants are most vulnerable...

2. Finding someone who is detained: It can sometimes take weeks to find someone who has just been detained by immigration. These are some steps that you can take:

  • Contact the Deport Office for New England, 617-565-3304. The Deport Office of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Detention and Removal Branch can often provide information about the location of a detainee, although computer records are not updated immediately. Only call if you are certain your loved one has been detained by immigration. It is best if you can provide his/her Alien Number although officers can generally find a detainee by name if they have been entered into the system.  Outside of New England, click here to find information for your local Detention and Removal Operations Office.
  • Contact your consulate. Consulates are often required by international convention or treaty to be informed when one of their nationals is detained.
  • Contact individual detention centers: Some of the largest immigration facilities in New England are the Suffolk House of Corrections (617-635-1000), the Bristol County Correctional Institution (508-995-6400), the Plymouth County Correctional Facility (508-830-6200) and the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center (401-729-1190).

3. Evaluating your legal options: An immigration attorney who specializes in deportation is the best person to evaluate whether someone has a legal grounds for fighting deportation. More on legal relief from deportation...

In the Massachusetts area, there are a handful of legal service organizations who help people in detention or facing deportation:

  • The BC Immigration and Asylum Project provides pro-bono screenings and representation for detainees in Plymouth, Bristol and other facilities. 617-552-0593.
  • The Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) Project provides pro-bono screenings and representation for detainees in the Suffolk County House of Corrections and other facilities. 617-742-9296.
  • The International Institute of Rhode Island provides pro-bono screenings and representation for detainees in the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Center. 401-461-5940.
  • Greater Boston Legal Services represents a limited number of clients in deportation proceedings. 617-603-1808.

It is helpful to prepare to see one of these attorneys by filling out an in-take form and gathering the right documents. Click here for a document checklist in English.

4. Campaigning for Prosecutorial Discretion: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can exercise Prosecutorial Discretion and decide whether or not to enforce the law against someone. ICE can exercise prosecutorial discretion in any stage of the enforcement process, by, for example:

  • not issuing, serving, or filing a Notice to Appear (NTA)
  • not detaining someone (unless he/she is subject to mandatory detention)
  • granting deferred action or staying a final order of removal/deportation

Campaigning for prosecutorial discretion is generally a last resort when all legal options have been exhausted or when cases are extremely compelling. Such campaigns involve documenting favorable factors such as length of residence in the U.S., good character, service to the community, service in the U.S. armed services, family ties in the U.S., property or business ties, rehabilitation, and political support. It is a good idea to collect letters of support from family and community members, teachers, religious and community leaders, and elected officials.

  • Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion: The federal government's 11/17/2000 memorandum on the use of prosecutorial discretion.  This document describes the principles the Department of Homeland Security applies in providing relief from removal in certain cases.