Rethinking Removability

68 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2013 Last revised: 12 Feb 2014

See all articles by Jennifer Lee Koh

Jennifer Lee Koh

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law

Date Written: July 8, 2013


The concept of removability in the immigration laws refers to the government’s legal authority to seek deportation for violations of the federal immigration statute. Removability matters now more than ever before, both for individuals facing possible deportation as well as for the many governmental institutions charged with assessing removability. Using four areas of emerging law — claims to U.S. citizenship, the categorical approach to determining the immigration consequences of crime, the application of the exclusionary rule in removal proceedings, and the exercise of administrative discretion — this Article places removability at the center of its analysis and presents a framework for better understanding removability. Under what the Article calls a narrative of "complex removability," removability is both legally and factually complex, as well as subject to change, notwithstanding the temptation in legal and popular discourse to treat removability as simple and settled.

The Article then identifies several common themes that characterize complex removability today. First, removability has become complicated in large part because substantive, discretionary relief has become woefully difficult to obtain. Second, challenges to removability tend to be limited across the legal system due to barriers associated with immigration detention, such as the absence of counsel and the pressures of time. Third, complex removability leads to a deeper appreciation of the fluidity and uncertainty associated with immigration status. Fourth, complex removability is not static, but is produced through dynamic interactions between the government and the individual. Fifth, the Article explores the relationship between horizontal separation of powers tensions and complex removability. The Article concludes by suggesting several areas in which taking complex removability seriously might bear upon immigration policy, practice and discourse.

Keywords: removability, removal, deportation, immigration, citizenship, criminal, crimmigration, categorical approach, categorical analysis, due process, fifth amendment, exclusionary rule, deferred action, dreamers, prosecutorial discretion, detention, immigration reform, administrative, illegality

Suggested Citation

Koh, Jennifer Lee, Rethinking Removability (July 8, 2013). Florida Law Review, Vol. 65, 2013, p. 1803 , Available at SSRN:

Jennifer Lee Koh (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University - Rick J. Caruso School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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