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Why A Growing Number Of Undocumented Immigrants Are Choosing To Leave The U.S. Voluntarily

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Over a week ago, immigrant communities in ten major metro areas nationwide - including South Florida - spent days in fear after the Trump administration announced a plan to hold mass roundups of undocumented immigrants. Those raids never materialized.

For many undocumented families, the prospect of being deported to their country of origin is one of their worst nightmares. But a recent study by non-partisan news outlet The Marshall Project shows that more immigrants are giving up legal fights and the threat of arrest and detention and leaving the United States voluntarily. 

It's called "voluntary departure," and it allows a non-citizen to depart the United States by a certain date without an order of removal (deportation) on his or her record. The individual would leave at his or her own expense, within a set period of time -- typically up to 120 days.

"I'm not a big advocate of it," says Patricia Hernandez, founding partner of Kendall-based Rotella & Hernandez, a firm that specializes in immigration law. "There are very harsh consequences to voluntary departure," says Hernandez.

For one thing, if an individual has accrued what U.S. immigration authorities call "unlawful presence," i.e., being physically present in the United States without the proper authorization, trying to re-enter the United States lawfully in the future will be difficult even if you've voluntarily departed. 

However, Hernandez acknowledges that it's still better than getting an order of deportation. And as for the surge in voluntary departure applications since Donald Trump became President, Hernandez says  has noticed a trend among her clients, many of whom are from Central America.

"After they've been detained for a couple of months, they just decide that they're going to give up," she says. "They can't take it anymore and they've told me, 'Let's just ask the judge for voluntary departure and I'll just go back home. ' " 




Christine DiMattei is WLRN's Morning Edition anchor and also reports on Arts & Culture.
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