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Leaving the United States Voluntarily as an Undocumented Immigrant

With the increased pressure to deport immigrants, some immigrants have begun to consider a voluntary return to their countries of origin in order to leave the United States on their own terms. This voluntary departure is sometimes called self-deportation or attrition through enforcement. While self-deportation is presented as a choice, it is not always so, and is often more like a forced choice.

Government policies can target immigrants and try to encourage self-deportation by limiting access to social services or benefits, work options, and educational opportunities. Essentially, by taking away these benefits and opportunities, the government seeks to make life difficult for immigrants until they choose to leave the United States on their own. Proponents of self-deportation support the process because it is cheaper than government deportation and because deportations by the government are unpopular with many voters.

An immigrant who has been arrested for being in the country illegally and put through removal proceedings may sometimes be given an opportunity to leave the country voluntary, making his or her own travel arrangements and getting an opportunity to finalize matters in the United States before leaving. An immigrant who has been given an opportunity for voluntary departure is given a certain date by which to leave the country, and if he or she has not left by that date, a deportation order (an order of removal) is entered against him or her. If an immigrant accepts the voluntary departure option, the 10-year ban on later returning to the United States legally may not apply.

Unfortunately, voluntary departure or self-deportation is not an easy choice for many immigrants no matter how tough the climate in the United States becomes. For some, there is no home to return to, having spent decades in the United States, which is the only true home they know.  Additionally, returning to the United States after self-deportation is not as easy as applying for a new visa.

Strangely enough, when some immigrants attempt to leave the United States voluntarily through a border checkpoint, they may be arrested, prosecuted for being in the country illegally and formally deported. Having a formal record of deportation is worse for the immigrant because once the person goes through a formal deportation process it becomes increasingly harder for the person to return to the country. If a deported person later returns to the country illegally, and is again arrested, he or she can face criminal charges for the reentry after deportation. Prosecution for reentry after deportation can lead to a fine and prison time, as well as a permanent ban on returning to the United States.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

Voluntarily choosing to leave the United States, whether you are undocumented or of legal status, can have legal repercussions in terms of your ability to return to the United States at a later date. You may have legal options to adjust your status while in the United States, before you decide to leave, so contact an experienced immigration attorney for a consultation. Contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to experienced immigration attorney Nathan Wei from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.


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