In 2012, the San Diego ACLU became aware of a practice in which immigration officials were routinely forcing immigrants to sign "voluntary return" forms, using misinformation, deception, and coercion to convince them to sign. Voluntary return is a type of administrative deportation, by which the signer will not see a judge before they are deported (removed) from the United States and instead is processed by an immigration agent. Those who sign a voluntary return form are generally deported very quickly, sometimes within just a few hours.
The ACLU learned that in many cases, Mexican nationals with deep roots in the U.S. were pressured by officers into forfeiting their right to a fair hearing and a chance to live in the U.S. lawfully. Officers misrepresented the severe consequences of a voluntary return, such as a prolonged bar from re-entering the United States.
LITIGATION and SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT
When we learned about the practice and policy, we sued in district court on June 4, 2013. After motions, discovery, and negotiations, the ACLU and the government reached a comprehensive settlement, including a landmark agreement to allow the individual plaintiffs and a class of qualified persons to return to the United States.
Also significantly, the agreement requires the government to implement systemic reforms to the way it implements voluntary return, including:
- Requiring immigration enforcement agencies to give detailed information—in writing and orally—about what it really means to take voluntary return to anyone forced to choose between voluntary return and a hearing before an immigration judge.
- Requiring immigration enforcement agencies to maintain a 1-800 hotline that gives information about an individual’s rights regarding voluntary return and the consequences of taking it.
- Prohibiting immigration enforcement agencies from “pre-checking” the box selecting voluntary return on the forms the agencies provide to immigrants.
- Requiring immigration enforcement agencies to allow people to use a phone, provide them with a list of legal service providers, and allow them two hours to reach someone before deciding whether or not to take voluntary return.
- Requiring immigration enforcement agencies to give lawyers meaningful access to their clients who are detained by BP or ICE.
- Preventing immigration enforcement agencies from relying on pressure or other coercion to convince someone to accept voluntary departure.
- Requiring immigration enforcement agencies to allow ACLU attorneys to monitor compliance and ensure transparency and accountability for three years.
More information about the agreement can be found at here.
Co-counsel in this legal case include the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and Cooley LLP.
The class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven plaintiffs, and two organizational plaintiffs, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), and the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center (PEOC).
- December 30, 2013: Hon. John Kronstadt, U.S. District Judge, issues an order on the government's motion to dismiss and our motion for a preliminary injunction.
- August 28, 2014: Judge Kronstadt granted our motion for preliminary approval of the class-wide portion of the settlement, beginning 120-day notice period in which a third party seeks to inform potential class members of the settlement agreement.
- February 26, 2015: Judge Kronstadt approves the entire settlement, beginning the process of submitting applications for potential class members in Mexico.
- Isidora Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, June 4, 2013
- Judge Kronstadt's Order Re Defendant's Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint / Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, December 27, 2013
- Settlement Agreement, August 18, 2014
- Judge Kronstadt's Order Re Representative Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Approval of Class-Wide Portion of Settlement, August 28, 2014
- Settlement Summary and Timeline, August 28, 2014
- Broaden the 'voluntary departure' settlement, Los Angeles Times, lead editorial, September 2, 2014
- 9 Mexicans Can Return to Contest Deportations, New York Times, August 24, 2014
- ACLU: Suit puts end to deceived detainees, UT San Diego, August 27, 2014
- In Settlement, Homeland Security Agrees to Reform 'Voluntary Departures,' NPR's All Things Considered, August 27, 2014
- Acuerdo historic: Patrulla Fronteriza no podrá forzar más las deportaciones voluntarias, Univision, "Noticias con Jorge Ramos," August 27, 2014
- ACLU Sues Border Patrol, Immigration Officials Over Voluntary Departures Program, Huffington Post, June 4, 2014
- ACLU Class Action Suit Alleges Threats, Coercion By Border Patrol, KPBS, June 4, 2014