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January 2015

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Immigration scholars and advocates frequently criticize our immigration system for imposing severe penalties akin to (or worse than) those in the criminal justice system — such as prolonged detention and permanent exile from the United States — without providing sufficient procedural protections to minimize enforcement errors. Yet there has been relatively little scholarship examining the frequency of errors in immigration enforcement and identifying recurring causes of those errors, in part because the data is hard to find. This Article begins by canvassing some of the publicly available data on enforcement errors, which reveal that such mistakes occur too frequently to be dismissed as flukes. Although the data is too limited to draw any definitive conclusions as to the causes of such errors, it appears that some errors occur because low-level officials are asked to administer complex and ambiguous immigration laws quickly and with little training or oversight. This Article concludes by calling for immigration reform advocates to gather more information about wrongful deportations, following the lead of the Innocence Project, which has used data from DNA exonerations to raise public awareness of wrongful convictions and to advocate for additional procedural protections in the criminal justice system.