Lopez-Venegas, et al. v. Johnson, et al. No. 13-cv-03972-JAK-PLA (C.D. Cal., filed June 4, 2013)
Filed by the ACLU and Cooley LLP on behalf of eleven Mexican nationals and three immigration advocacy organizations, this class action lawsuit challenged deceptive tactics used by Border Patrol agents and ICE officers to convince noncitizens to accept “voluntary return.” Each individual plaintiff had significant family ties in the United States and lacked any serious criminal history. Thus, they could have asserted strong claims to remain in the United States if they had been granted a hearing before an immigration judge.
The complaint alleged that Border Patrol agents and ICE officers have a pattern and practice of pressuring undocumented immigrants to sign what amount to their own summary expulsion documents. In recent years, this “voluntary return” procedure has been used to summarily expel hundreds of thousands of noncitizens from Southern California. Because of the coercive and deceptive tactics immigration officers employ, voluntary return regularly results in the involuntary waiver of core due process rights. An individual who signs for voluntary return forfeits his or her right to a hearing before an immigration judge and is usually expelled from the United States within a matter of hours.
Through the lawsuit, the individual plaintiffs sought to return to the United States and to receive a fair hearing before an immigration judge. The organizational plaintiffs, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, and the San Bernardino Community Service Center, sought systemic reforms to the voluntary return process throughout Southern California.
Following more than a year of litigation, including intensive discovery and the deposition of key government officials, the government agreed to significant reforms of the voluntary return system in Southern California. Under a settlement reached by the parties, government officials must:
- Provide detailed information – in writing, orally, and through a 1-800 hotline – regarding the consequences of accepting voluntary return to noncitizens asked to choose between voluntary return and a hearing before an immigration judge;
- Cease “pre-checking” the box selecting voluntary return on the forms the immigration agencies provide to noncitizens;
- Permit noncitizens to use a working phone, provide them with a list of legal service providers, and give 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 some of the hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals who have been subject to unlawful voluntary returns to reunite with their families in the United States; and
- Allow ACLU attorneys to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement for three years.
Additional information on the class settlement is available at http://www.misalidavoluntaria.org.
90 class members were identified under the settlement, and 82 of those individuals successfully returned to the United States. Others decided not to return, or could not be located. Monitoring of compliance of the settlement is ongoing. The ACLU of San Diego and their partners conducted visits to Border Patrol stations covered by the settlement in March 2017 to monitor compliance.
- Settlement Means Potential Relief for Voluntarily Deported Immigrants: ACLU, NBC San Diego (Feb. 27, 2015)
- 9 Mexicans Can Return to Contest Deportations, NY Times (Aug. 27, 2014)
- U.S. to allow some immigrant deportees to return under settlement, LA Times (Aug. 27, 2014)
- ACLU Sues Border Patrol, Immigration Officials Over Voluntary Departures Program, Huffington Post (Jun. 4, 2013)
Counsel: ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Cooley LLP