The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the government for allegedly pressuring undocumented immigrants to sign deportation papers.
The group has filed a class action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The issue is with a process called voluntary departure.
“Voluntary departure is a process that permits immigrants to elect to return to their country of origin rather than face formal removal proceedings,” said Mitra Ebadolahi, ACLU border litigation attorney.
Attorneys with the ACLU’s San Diego office allege detainees are often misled or coerced to sign these papers. They said anyone who signs the papers can’t return to the United States for 10 years.
The attorneys argue if detainees sign the papers, they miss an opportunity to get an attorney and stay in the country.
“Everyone needs a fair chance to make this critical decision,” said Sean Riordan, ACLU staff attorney.
Mayra Lopez’s husband signed voluntary departure papers and returned to Mexico last October. He was taken into custody after a neighbor reported him for disturbing the peace. Lopez said the ICE officer told him if he didn't sign the papers, he would go to jail.
“He was scared and intimidated,” Lopez said.
Lopez said she had to quit school and start working to support her son. They spend weekends visiting her husband in Tijuana.
“It’s hard to explain why his daddy’s over there and not over there,” she said.
Aide Vazquez’s husband came to the U.S. illegally when he was 14-years-old. Last year, he was pulled over for talking on a cell phone. Vazquez said when he couldn’t show identification, police called Border Patrol.
“By 2 a.m. the next morning, he was in TJ,” Vazquez said. “That changed my life forever.”
ACLU attorneys said immigrants are often deported fast and don’t have time to get their affairs in order before leaving.
The ACLU said it wants to stop abusive practices. It also wants to bring the seven plaintiffs named in the suit back to America, which is what their family members want most.
“It would fulfill me,” Vazquez said. “It would be very happy for me and my kids to have my husband back.”
NBC 7 reached out to the government for comment, but did not receive a response.