De Facto Immigration Courts

57 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2013

See all articles by Stephen Lee

Stephen Lee

University of California, Irvine School of Law

Date Written: June 6, 2013


In Padilla v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court recognized a noncitizen defendant’s right to be informed by her attorney of any downstream immigration consequences that might flow from a proposed plea deal. In establishing this important right, the Court recognized a stark reality: that in many instances, a noncitizen’s only meaningful opportunity to avoid removal arises in upstream criminal proceedings. This Article traces out the implications of a world where criminal courts (especially at the state level) operate as de facto immigration courts. This Article aims to do three things. First, it shows that local prosecutors operate as gatekeepers in the world of de facto immigration courts, a point the Court recognizes in Padilla and other cases. Second, it explains that prosecutors can exercise their gatekeeping power to deviate from or completely unsettle federal immigration enforcement priorities, a quality that distinguishes them from other local actors participating in immigration enforcement. Third and finally, the Article explores how Congress and the Court might accommodate this nascent reality.

Suggested Citation

Lee, Stephen, De Facto Immigration Courts (June 6, 2013). California Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 3, 2013; UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2013-114. Available at SSRN:

Stephen Lee (Contact Author)

University of California, Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 E. Peltason Dr.
Ste. 1000
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics