Lawsuit Against DHS for Failure to Disclose Records on “Voluntary” Returns
American Immigration Council v. DHS, No. 1:12-cv-00932 (D.D.C. dismissed Sep. 16, 2014)
In June 2012, the American Immigration Council, in collaboration with Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, filed suit against DHS and CBP for unlawfully withholding records concerning voluntary returns of noncitizens from the United States to their countries of origin. Voluntary return, also known as “administrative voluntary departure,” is a procedure whereby CBP officers permit noncitizens to voluntarily depart the United States at their own expense rather than undergoing formal removal proceedings. Noncitizens may be granted voluntary return to their countries of origin after conceding unlawful presence in the United States and knowingly and voluntarily waiving the right to contest removal. -- Reports from immigration advocates indicate that CBP officers do not always provide noncitizens with information regarding the consequences of accepting voluntary return and in some cases even compel them to “agree” to “voluntarily” depart. Consequently, individuals who voluntarily return may be forced to relinquish claims for legal status in the U.S. and/or face a lengthy bar to lawfully reentering the United States. -- The Council filed a detailed FOIA request regarding these practices in June 2011. CBP produced four pages of records with the promise of more to come. After waiting almost a year for additional documents, the Council filed suit under the FOIA and obtained hundreds of pages of records through negotiations with the government. The records include voluntary return procedures, training materials, a detailed list of complaints of physical abuse filed against CBP personnel from 2009-2012, documents regarding the circumstances under which CBP officers should consider prosecutorial discretion, and numerous incident reports. Following successful negotiations and the release of relevant documents, the court, at the joint request of the parties, dismissed the case in September 2014.