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US to change how it handles 'voluntary departure' immigrant cases in California

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American citizen Lace Rodriguez and her husband Javier Guerrero from Mexico, embrace with their son Javier Jr. (3), on March 10, 2013 in Nogales, Mexico. The family lived together in Phoenix before Guerrero, an undocumented worker from Mexico, was detained by the Border Patrol, held for three months by ICE and then deported March 4 to Nogales, Mexico. Guerrero had lived in the United States for 17 years. He and Rodriguez, a medical student, have two children, and she is nine-months pregnant with a third. The splitting up of families has become a major issue as the U.S. works towards immigration reform.
John Moore/Getty Images
In Mexico, an American woman is reunited with her Mexican husband, who was an undocumented worker in California. The splitting up of families has become a major issue as the U.S. works towards immigration reform.

As the result of a settlement with the ACLU, the U.S. government has announced a list of changes to how the "voluntary departure" option works in California.

U.S. border patrol says it will change key aspects of how it deals with some Mexican nationals who face deportation in Southern California. The changes will affect situations known as 'voluntary departure,' when an undocumented immigrant chooses to be removed rather than contest deportation.

Related: Understaffed immigration judges face rise of migrant cases

The changes include providing more information on the right to an immigration hearing and giving those in custody a list of legal services.

It's the result of a settlement after a 2013 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. For more, we're joined by NPR reporter John Burnett.

According to the ACLU, the terms of the settlement include the following:

  • That information will be provided — 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;
  • Agencies will cease “pre-checking” the box selecting “voluntary return” on the forms they provide to non-citizens;
  • Non-citizens will be allowed to use a working phone, provides with a list of legal service providers, and allowed two hours to reach someone before deciding whether to accept voluntary return;
  • Lawyers will be provided meaningful access to clients detained by Border Patrol or ICE;
  • Individuals will no longer be pressured or coerced to accept voluntary return;
  • ACLU attorneys will be allowed to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement for three years.


In response to the settlement, the Department of Homeland Security said in an email to Take Two that "in no case is coercion or deception tolerated" at the agency. The full statement:



“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use voluntary return as an option for individuals who may request to be returned home in lieu of removal proceedings, but in no case is coercion or deception tolerated. In an effort to address the issues raised in this litigation, both agencies have agreed to supplement their existing procedures to ensure that foreign nationals fully comprehend the potential consequences of returning voluntarily to Mexico.” 

Related: For kids facing a judge in immigration court, 'a strange experience'

Previously: Immigration news: Inside LA's courts, overwhelmed by child migrant cases

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