Article 1 of the Constitution grants Congress the power “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization” but does not give a specific power to control immigration. In our early history states regulated immigration. The first federal immigration legislation, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, authorized the president to deport any non-citizen determined to be “dangerous to the peace and safety of the United States.” In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act excluded Chinese laborers for ten years under penalty of imprisonment and deportation. In 1889 the Supreme Court decided in that Congress has ‘plenary power’ over immigration. Since then the regulation of immigration has been exclusively a federal function, and Congress has frequently passed laws regulating the entry into and deportation from the U.S. Deportation has been the main focus of congressional and administrative action in recent years. Every year since 2007 more than 300,000 persons have been deported from the U.S., with over 400,000 annual deportations carried out between 2012-2014.

Some well-known deportation cases will illustrate this intimidating power of the federal government. Emma Goldman was a Russian-born anarchist, political activist, and writer who opposed U.S. involvement in WW I. In 1917 she was convicted of conspiring to “induce persons not to register” for the newly enacted draft. After serving her prison sentence Goldman was arrested in the “Palmer Raids” (a series of arrests and deportations of suspected socialists in 1919-20) and deported to Russia. Another well-known activist deported for espousing political opinions that the U.S. government wished to suppress was Marcus Garvey, the Jamaican-born Black nationalist who started the ‘Back to Africa’ movement in the 1920s. Convicted of politically motivated mail fraud charges, he was deported to Jamaica in 1927. 

A more recent example of a politically motivated immigration process is the attempted deportation of John Lennon. In 1971 Lennon entered the U.S. on a visitor’s visa. President Nixon’s 1972 campaign became fearful that Lennon’s anti-war songs and activism would harm Nixon’s re-election chances. A 1968 English conviction for marijuana possession –known to U.S. authorities at the time of his 1971 admission – was used as the basis for a 1973 deportation order against him. But in 1975 the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the deportation decision, ruling that because British law imposed absolute criminal liability for possession of marijuana the conviction did not render Lennon deportable under U.S. immigration law. In dictum, the Court stated, “The courts will not condone selective deportation based on secret political grounds.”  50 years later, another UK-born artist, The Grammy Award-winning rapper 21 Savage, was arrested and detained for overstaying his ESTA.  He was able to avoid deportation because he was the Beneficiary of a pending U visa, a special benefit that is available to victims of crime (he was shot in 2013 in an incident that also claimed the life of his best friend).  

Some of the most news-worthy deportations in recent years have involved Nazi war criminals living in the U.S. John Demjanuk, born in Soviet Ukraine, was taken prisoner of war in 1942 and trained to be a concentration camp guard. After the war ended he falsified his involvement with the Nazis to enter the U.S., becoming a naturalized citizen in 1958. Years later he was suspected of being ‘Ivan the Terrible,’ a guard that operated the gas chamber at Treblinka. His citizenship was revoked in 1981 based on his lying on his visa application. He was deported to Israel, where he was convicted of committing atrocities as Ivan the Terrible, but his conviction was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993. Returned to the U.S., his citizenship was restored but the Justice Department again sought to denaturalize him, this time based on evidence that he was a guard at the Sobibor extermination camp. His citizenship was revoked a second time in 2002 and he was ordered deported. After years of appeals and legal challenges, he was deported to Germany in 2009, where he was convicted of being an accessory to the murder of 28,060 Jews at the Sobibor camp.     

Similar histories include Feodor Federenko, who came to the U.S. in 1949 and naturalized in 1970. He lived a quiet life until he was identified as a guard at Treblinka. He was denaturalized, deported to the Soviet Union in 1984, and executed there in 1987. Hermine Braunsteiner was living for years as a U.S. citizen when it was discovered that she was the sadistic “Stomping Mare” at the Majdanek concentration camp. She was denaturalized in 1971 and extradited to Germany, where she was convicted of the murder of 80 people, abetting the murder of 102 children, a collaborating in the murder of 1,000 people.  Human rights abusers from more recent wars have also recently been prosecuted and deported.  For example, in the Philadelphia area, where there is a large Liberian ex-pat community, the DHS HSI War Crimes Unit has been able to identify, denaturalize and remove a number of individuals who led rebel groups who committed horrific war crimes during the Liberian Civil War.  In 2016, the United States deported Santos Lopez Alonzo, a former Guatemalan soldier who in 1982, participated in a massacre of over 200 civilians during that the Guatemalan Civil War. 

We close with a mention of some famous criminal deportees. Charles Ponzi was an Italian who emigrated to the U.S. in 1903. In 1920 he started a fraudulent scheme that lured investors with the promise of very high returns, which he paid from money received from more recent investors until the scheme collapsed. Although he didn’t invent this deception it now bears his name. He was deported in 1934 after serving several prison terms for fraud.  Giselda Blanco was a Colombian drug trafficker known as the ‘godmother of cocaine.’ She was convicted in federal court in 1985 on multiple drug charges and later pled guilty in Florida to three counts of murder. After serving her sentences she was deported to Colombia in 2004. In 2012 she was killed by a motorcycle assassin in Medellin.  Joe Giudice, the estranged husband of “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice, was deported to Italy in 2019 after serving a long prison term for mail, wire and bankruptcy fraud. Born in Italy, he had lived in the U.S. since he was one year old but never applied for U.S. citizenship.  And deportation proceedings against the fake German heiress Anna Sorokin are ongoing. Sorokin, a Russian immigrant, conned banks, hotels, and some gullible people in Manhattan’s wealthy social circles to the tune of almost $300,000. She served a three-year sentence for grand larceny and other crimes.  Her story has been made into a Netflix Mini-Series.  If you think that you may be subject to deportation or removal proceedings, or if you have been previously deported and would like to consult with one of our attorneys about your case, feel free to contact our lawyers at Solow, Hartnett & Galvan, LLC to schedule a consultation.