A settlement reached between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) now provides that immigration officials will be required to give oral and written information regarding the consequences of signing voluntary departure papers to immigrants in the San Diego border region.
In June 2013, the ACLU filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Marta Mendoza and ten other individuals who had been expelled through alleged unfair "voluntary returns," using "deceptive and coercive" methods. In 2013, Marta Mendoza was arrested for shoplifting from a pharmacy near her Los Angeles home. Ms. Mendoza was born in Mexico, but had lived in the US for decades, raising six U.S. citizen children. According to the ACLU, while in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she was pressured into signing "voluntary return" papers, and was returned to her home country of Mexico within days.
By signing a "voluntary return,” Ms. Mendoza gave up her right to fight deportation, agreeing to immediate return to Mexico. If she had not signed the “voluntary return,” she may have had the chance at a hearing before an immigration judge, where she could have been allowed to remain in the U.S. lawfully on account of her citizen children.
According to The Guardian , ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a statement, that ICE and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) use voluntary return “as an option for individuals who may request to be returned home in lieu of removal proceedings, but in no case is coercion or deception tolerated.”
Under the settlement announced last month, ICE officers and US Customs and CBP officers are now required to provide detailed information on the voluntary departure process, and are prevented from pressuring individuals to accept voluntary departure.
The government has agreed to set up a 1-800 hotline to provide information regarding voluntary departure. Officials are also prohibited from 'pre-checking' the voluntary departure box on forms given to immigrants and would require agencies to allow people to use a phone, provide a list of legal service providers and allow them two hours to reach someone before agreeing to voluntary return. A copy of the settlement can be found here.
“If the settlement is implemented fully and in good faith by the government then I think it's going to be incredibly significant because it will mean that families will no longer be torn apart summarily after a parent or a spouse is arrested by border patrol or ICE,” said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney for the ACLU in San Diego and Imperial Counties.
Pending class approval, the settlement would also allow some Mexican nationals who were removed under “voluntary return,” between June 2009 and August 2014 to return to the US to be given the chance to have their cases heard before an immigration judge. The number of removed individuals could reach from, “several hundred people to somewhere in the thousands,” according to Riordan.
For now, these changes will apply to the San Diego border patrol sector, and not to Arizona, or other areas of the country. However, according to the Guardian article, ICE officials anticipate some of these reforms will be more widely adopted.
If you are dealing with an immigration matter and are seeking legal counsel, do not hesitate to contact my office. We are happy to schedule a consultation in order to review the facts of your case.