August 8, 2008
By Mariana Martínez
Immigration authorities have been severely criticized for the numerous raids in immigrant communities, especially Hispanic, where they search for fugitives and end up with dramatic scenes of armed police going into houses taking away adults to be deported, while their children are left crying and still in their pajamas.
To minimize that negative image, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has created a pilot program called Scheduled Departure, having its trial run in five cities nationwide, including San Diego, starting August 5th through the 22nd.
The program focuses on the 457,000 undocumented immigrants against whom deportation orders have been issued by an immigration court. The program excludes about 20% who have been convicted of crimes.
The program already in place in Santa Ana, CA, Charlotte N.C., Chicago, IL and Phoenix, AX and if its proven to be successful, it could go nation wide.
“We want to show activists and community groups we are open to suggestions and different solutions other than the ones employed until now”, said Jim Hayes, director of Detentions for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to various media outlets.
If successful, the program could reduce costs for search and detention of immigrants, because if they give themselves up, immigrants will not be held in a detention facility, but deported promptly. It would also be a way to avoid arrest, arrange your financial affairs and most importantly take care of the children so that they are not suddenly left parentless.
According to ICE officials, the people that give themselves up voluntarily, could have up to 90 days to put their affairs in order before being deported. They can change property rights, pay debts and prepare their arrival to their home country, but the 10 to 20 year sanction that prohibits them from returning to the US, remains.
Cristian Ramírez, president of the American Friends Service Committee, said that even with doubts about the success of the program, some people might actually take the offer.
“Immigrants are detained in inhumane conditions at Detentions Centers, where the wait for deportation could be months or years. It also allows people to arrange financial stability for their families so they are not left adrift if they are deported”.
Ramirez suggests people who are thinking about it should consult with an immigration lawyer and go to their consulate, before contacting the authorities.
ICE launched a campaign in Hispanic media outlets assuring that “surrendering to the authorities will be noted as a factor in your immigration files”, but immigrants and activists consider the lack of incentives and trust in authorities will make it difficult for the program to be a success.
Activist Elvira Arellano said there are really very little incentives to cooperate.
“ICE doesn’t offer any guarantees to families, doesn’t change the sanctions, the burden of not being able to return to the US is the same”, said the activist. Arellano was herself deported after taking refuge in a church in Chicago for a little over a year.
“Our people are not going to give themselves up, if they didn’t go to their deportation hearing it means they don’t want to leave the country, why would they do it now?. If they offered some path to change their status it would make a difference, it authorities said “you are going out but we are not punishing you, and you will be able to return legally trough your US citizen husband or adult children petition” but they are not saying that”, Arellano said.
Daniel Santos, Mexican emigrant from the state of Guerrero, has been living in the US for over 25 years. He works in a restaurant and is now a permanent resident.
“It is not about us wanting to brake the law. It’s the fact that we have our life here, our stuff, our family”, explained Santos. He adds many of his friends are undocumented and are seriously worried about the raids, but they trust in an immigration reform and are not even thinking about giving themselves up for deportation.
“In my case, I no longer have family living in Mexico, my kids are US citizens attending college, why would I go back? Besides, if they offered a lesser punishment such as going back for a few years, one would think about it. If they where open to looking at each case and taking into account the fact that you worked hard and you paid taxes…that might be a good deal”, said Santos.
Until now, only one immigrant in Phoenix, Arizona, has been reported to have used the program.