On Wednesday, the federal government consented to allow some illegal immigrants who agreed to voluntarily go back to Mexico from Southern California to return to the United States in what the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called a “historic settlement.”
The Department of Homeland Security and the ACLU reached a settlement on a class-action lawsuit the ACLU filed last year on behalf of 11 people the ACLU claimed the “government had expelled through unfair ‘voluntary returns.'”
According to the Los Angeles Times, “the agreement covers only Southern California, but some of the reforms in the deportation process are likely to be adopted nationwide.” There were nearly 250,000 people who were “deported voluntarily from Southern California between 2009 and 2013, the period covered in the lawsuit,” and an ACLU official told the Times that the “number of repatriations could reach into the hundreds or thousands.”
As the Times notes, the “class of deportees who qualify for repatriation is limited mainly to longtime California residents with relatives who are U.S. citizens and to young migrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally.” In addition, according to the Times, all who are repatriated may be subject to “deportation proceedings when they return.”
According to the ACLU, under the settlement, government officials must also:
Provide detailed information–in writing, orally, and through a 1-800 hotline–regarding the consequences of taking “voluntary return” to non-citizens asked to choose between “voluntary return” and a hearing before a judge; Cease “pre-checking” the box selecting “voluntary return” on the forms the agencies provide to non-citizens; Permit non-citizens to use a working phone, provide them with a list of legal service providers, and allow them two hours to reach someone before deciding whether to accept “voluntary return”; Provide lawyers meaningful access to clients detained by Border Patrol or ICE; Cease pressuring or coercing individuals to accept “voluntary return”; Allow ACLU attorneys to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement for three years.
The Times points out that “eight deportees have returned to California from Mexico” so far, including a woman who self-deported after she “said agents threatened to place her autistic son in a foster home if she didn’t agree to be deported.”
The ACLU vowed to “monitor ICE and Border Patrol closely to ensure that these agencies never again trick or coerce vulnerable individuals into signing away their fundamental rights.”