POLITICS

ACLU Lawsuit Says U.S. Coerces Mexicans To Leave And Denies Them Due Process

MESA, AZ - DECEMBER 08:  An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officer prepares an undocumented Salvadorian immigrant for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador on December 8, 2010 in Mesa, Arizona. Of the 111 Salvadorians on the flight, most had criminal records and were sent home in chains. Although illegal immigration to the United States has decreased nationally in the last few years, ICE deported almost 400,000 people in the last year, which is a record. Of that number, almost half had criminal records. The Obama administration has made targeting undocumented criminals a priority in its immigration enforcement policy.  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

MESA, AZ - DECEMBER 08: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), officer prepares an undocumented Salvadorian immigrant for a deportation flight bound for San Salvador on December 8, 2010 in Mesa, Arizona. Of the 111 Salvadorians on the flight, most had criminal records and were sent home in chains. Although illegal immigration to the United States has decreased nationally in the last few years, ICE deported almost 400,000 people in the last year, which is a record. Of that number, almost half had criminal records. The Obama administration has made targeting undocumented criminals a priority in its immigration enforcement policy. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)  (2010 Getty Images)

The American Civil Liberties Union says the U.S. government illegally coerces Mexicans to agree to leave the United States and robs them of a chance to appear before an immigration judge.

The civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles that alleges immigrants are routinely told they face months in jail while their cases are decided and are falsely informed that they can easily arrange legal status once they're back in Mexico.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol offer so-called voluntary departures to some immigrants without criminal records, sparing them the possibility of stiffer penalties under formal deportation orders. Voluntary departures prohibit immigrants from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years.

The lawsuit by the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties against Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and other department officials names seven Mexican men and women who allege they were misled, including Samuel Nava, who came to the U.S. on a tourist visa in 2003 but didn't leave.

Police pulled over Nava east of San Diego in 2011 for driving with a broken license-plate light and turned him over to the Border Patrol, which offered a voluntary departure. The ACLU said Nava could have asked a judge for legal status because he was married to a U.S. citizen, but he accepted the offer and now cannot return to the U.S. for 10 years.

"(The Border Patrol agents) told me the easiest thing to do was just sign the forms," Nava told a San Diego news conference through a video connection to La Paz, Mexico.

Peter Boogaard, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman, said he wouldn't comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, asks that authorities revamp their procedures to fully explain the consequences of agreeing to leave the country and to avoid trying to persuade immigrants to take the offers.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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