A Victory for Immigrant Rights

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

In an important legal victory, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has finally been able to prevent either Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the U.S. Border Patrol in southern California from ever tricking, threatening or coercing any non-U.S. citizen to sign a “voluntary return affidavit” against their will and without the presence of legal representation. For years, ICE or U.S. Border Patrol personnel were able to use this loophole in the immigration provisions to threaten people living in southern California to “either sign on the dotted line” or face prison. What people were not told was that if they were allowed to go before an immigration judge their case would actually get a legal review and the chances are they might be allowed to stay in the U.S., especially if they have family in this country (and includes U.S.-born children). In the ACLU lawsuit, Lopez-Venegas v.s. Johnson, an estimated several hundred thousand Mexican nationals will be able to return to the United States to have their cases heard before immigration judges. Also, as part of a settlement of the lawsuit, all U.S. immigration detention centers in California will have working phones where undocumented or legal non-U.S. citizen residents can call either the ACLU or legal professionals about their cases.

Most important, all those detained in California by either ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol on the border between the United States and Mexico must not be threatened or coerced to sign a voluntary return affidavit when they do not want to return to their country of origin voluntarily. As part of the settlement, lawyers from the ACLU will monitor compliance with this agreement. Although this is a state legal matter, it is a victory in the wider sense of establishing some guidelines for the rights of immigrants—whether they be legal or undocumented. California has one of the highest rates of immigration in the United States, and this means that this one state has large key immigrant communities. And as an American saying goes, “As with California, so goes the rest of the country;” what is happening in California in terms of immigrants’ rights will have a major impact in every state in the rest of the country. The settlement of this lawsuit will also mean that families that were torn apart when their loved ones were coerced into signing voluntary return affidavits will now be reunited. Even though this is not an answer or even a partial answer for immigration reform, it is nevertheless a victory for immigrants’ rights, a protection of the rights for non-U.S. citizens as well as U.S. citizens, and a victory for the rule of law.

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