Under a legal settlement reached between the Obama administration and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a still undetermined number of deportees will be allowed to return for their day in court.
In the 2013 case Lopez-Venegas vs. Johnson, the ACLU’s class action litigation charged the federal government with providing false information and pressuring immigrant detainees to sign “voluntary” deportation forms, without adequate legal consultation.
Starting last month, and under the settlement’s terms, the ACLU began submitting petitions from deportees who could be eligible to return and finally see an immigration judge. The civil liberties organization said it will be forwarding petitions from immigrants to the federal government in the matter until December 23 of this year.
“This is something almost without precedent, and it is a recognition that what happened to these people was unjust and needs to be corrected,” Gabriel Rivera, an ACLU attorney in San Diego, told the EFE news service.
For now, the settlement is expected to benefit a relatively small number of deportees, estimated to be in the hundreds or perhaps thousands. It applies to persons who were processed in southern California by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or by the Border Patrol in the agency’s San Diego sector between June 1, 2009 and August 28, 2014.
Other requirements for inclusion in the settlement include eligibility for the Deferred Action program, a U.S. residence of more than 10 years, and having a spouse, children or parents who are citizens or legal permanent residents.
Rivera stressed that if a person is approved for return, the action does not mean an automatic approval of permanent residence but merely a chance to argue a case before a judge.
According to the ACLU’s Barbis Vakili, his group will study the possibility of expanding the relief offered by Lopez-Venegas vs. Johnson to larger groups of deportees once the current settlement is finished.
Besides the opportunity for return allowed some deportees, the legal settlement resulted in agreements by ICE and the Border Patrol to train their agents to better inform immigrants of the consequences of signing voluntary deportation forms, as well as to ensure relevant consultations.
Vakili opined that changes in officially informing immigrant detainees of their rights are gradually coming on line. “It’s a big institution and change doesn’t come overnight,” the ACLU lawyer said.
Source: El Semanario de Nuevo Mexico/EFE, July 2, 2015.