Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people deported to Mexico may get the chance to return under a settlement reached between two rights groups and immigration and border patrol agencies.
The settlement arose from a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) filed last year alleging that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection used threats and intimidation against immigrants facing deportation and either misled or coerced them into agreeing to so-called “voluntary departure,” under which people agree to leave instead of being deported, which carries stiffer penalties.
The provision about deportees who could return applies only to people from California, though aspects of the settlement could eventually be applied to how immigration officials handle voluntary departure nationwide, CHIRLA told Fox News Latino.
“With this settlement, the cowardly practice of coercing immigrants to sign a so-called voluntary departure notice has come to an end,” CHIRLA’s executive director Angelica Salas said in a statement. “Up until now, such a procedure became a de facto involuntary waiver of core due process rights for countless individuals who in a matter of hours sometimes were uprooted from their communities and expelled to their home country.”
The government admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.
It is not known how many people would be returning to the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported, adding that advocates believe it would be “a small fraction” of the 250,000 people who took voluntary departure in Southern California between 2009 and 2013.
The settlement calls for immigration officials to “set up a program in place to identify those immigrants who signed those voluntary departures and get them back to the U.S.," Jorge Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for CHIRLA, told Fox News Latino.
The United States will try to identify people who qualify to return to the United States by spreading the word about the settlement through the Mexican media, the Los Angeles Times said.
Those who would be able to return would still be subjected to deportation. For now, the repatriation opportunity would be generally for longtime California residents with relatives who are U.S. citizens and to young people whose parents brought them into the country illegally.
The suit was filed on behalf of nine Mexican nationals.
It says that immigration officials in Southern California routinely informed Mexican immigrants they could face months in jail while their cases are decided and falsely informed them that they can easily arrange legal status once they're back in Mexico.
Immigrations authorities would offer voluntary departures, which prohibit immigrants from re-entering the U.S. for up to 10 years, according to the lawsuit. The voluntary departures can be offered to immigrants without criminal records, sparing them the possibility of stiffer penalties under formal deportation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.