ACLU Sues U.S. Government Over Voluntary Departure

952313_gavel.jpgThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, alleging that federal immigration officials provide misinformation and otherwise coerce undocumented foreign nationals into using the voluntary departure program.

Voluntary Departure (VD) is a program that allows a foreign national who is in removal proceedings to depart the country without an immigration judge entering a removal order against that person. A foreign national who applies for VD must concede removability and must depart the U.S. within the time allotted in the grant of VD. If the foreign national does not depart within the allotted timeframe, the national will face serious consequences if he/she wanted to reenter the country in the future, including a ten-year bar to many forms of immigration relief.

The VD process is a bit different from the typical removal process in that it is more informal - border patrol agents can give undocumented immigrants a form to sign and then the immigrants are given the timeframe within in which they must depart - sometimes as short as a couple of hours.

The ACLU argues that this process prevents undocumented immigrants from speaking to lawyers about what their other options may be. To illustrate, the suit is brought in the name of Mr. Samuel Nava, who states that immigration agents told him that they would detain him for months if he refused to sign the VD form, and that no immigration judge would help him even though he was engaged (now married) to a U.S. citizen.

Since the lawsuit is a class-action suit, there are multiple plaintiffs. In addition to Mr. Nava, Ms. Ana Maria Duenas joined the suit. According to Ms. Duenas, who speaks only Spanish, the immigration agents gave her an English-language VD form and misinformed her about the possibility of her U.S. citizen family sponsoring her for a green card.

According to the organization, the ACLU doesn't want to end the VD program, it merely wants to implement institutional safeguards to ensure the immigration agents do not, intentionally or unintentionally misinform the undocumented immigrants.

For example, the ACLU wants the undocumented immigrants to be informed that there is a 10-year bar to reentry into the U.S. once the government discovers they have been in the country without authorization for a year or longer.

Additionally, the ACLU also wants immigration agents to give undocumented immigrants time to contact an attorney or their friends and family so they can discuss what other options they may have to avoid deportation or other serious consequences. The ACLU's bottom-line is to prevent immigration agents from pressuring undocumented immigrants into signing VD forms without having full knowledge of the repercussions of VD.

Residing and working in the U.S. without legal status creates very serious and long-lasting immigration issues. It is of the utmost importance that foreign nationals without status contact an immigration attorney to discuss their options. At the Gee Law Firm, our attorneys are available to explain your legal rights and help you decide what strategy best fits your immigration needs. Contact our office today at 650-293-0270 and speak to a member of our legal team about your case.

Additional Blog Posts

USCIS Announces Provisional I-601 Waiver, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 16, 2013
Let's Put USCIS Forms in the Post Office, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 1, 2012

Family-Based Green Cards / by Michelle Gee