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Self-deportation program launched in Chicago

Resource type: News

Associated Press |

By SOPHIA TAREEN, The Associated Press CHICAGO – Federal immigration officials in Chicago and four other cities Tuesday launched a self-deportation program for immigrants who have evaded federal deportation orders and want to turn themselves in. The offer, which immigrants and immigrant rights advocates have criticized, had no takers in Chicago on Tuesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said. Only one person – in Phoenix – took the offer, according to an ICE official who spoke on condition of anonymity because not all the numbers are in. The “Scheduled Departure” program allows immigrants who have been ordered to leave the U.S. but have no criminal history and “pose no danger to the community” to return to their home countries without first being arrested or detained, ICE said. The program offers several advantages to illegal immigrants, said immigration officials in Chicago. “The main thing is that it minimizes the impact on the family. It allows them to work with ICE and work with the family and make arrangements,” said Ken Carlson, an ICE director who oversees the program in Chicago. “They avoid being arrested at their home or at their business. They avoid detention.” The program runs through Aug. 22. ICE planned to run advertisements touting the program in La Raza, Chicago’s largest Spanish-language weekly newspaper and run three radio spots, two on Spanish-language stations and one on a Polish-language station, said Chicago’s ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro. The print advertisement, which offers an information hot line, reads “ICE’s Scheduled Departure program gives you time to make arrangements and take care of personal matters. It is a way for you to plan your return home.” ICE planned to meet with several community-based organizations on Thursday to spread word of the program, Carlson said. But immigrant rights groups were skeptical. “This is a silly idea. Anybody that wants to self deport can self deport. They just drive across the border or hop on a plane,” said Joshua Hoyt, the executive director of the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “It’s another one of these fantasy ideas of the political season.” He said the program, which doesn’t apply to an illegal immigrant with a criminal history, doesn’t offer any advantages. “The vast majority of immigrants are trying to stay in the U.S. because they have American citizen children, they have homes and they have jobs they’ve been working at for years,” he said. To participate illegal immigrants are required bring to federal immigration offices whatever documentation they have available, such as an expired passport. They then have about 90 days to finalize plans and must be able to verify their departure from the country, ICE said. Participants are expected to pay for their departure, but ICE will pay for removal “in certain cases as appropriate,” officials said. The other cities in the program are Santa Ana, Calif.; San Diego; Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C. Carlson declined to offer any projections on how many people might self deport and said officials would evaluate the pilot program’s success at the end of the three weeks. Nationwide, about 572,000 immigrants face final deportation orders and are considered “fugitives” by ICE. About 80 percent, or 457,600, are eligible for the program because they don’t have criminal histories. Statistics on how many people are eligible in the Chicago area were not available, ICE said. Flor Crisostomo, a 29-year-old illegal immigrant who has openly defied a federal deportation order to Mexico by taking sanctuary at a Chicago church, said she was “definitely not” interested in the offer. “This new program is ridiculous and is stupid,” she said in Spanish. “What person in their right mind would self deport? Nobody will participate.” Crisostomo, who has lived at the Adalberto United Methodist Church for approximately six months, said poor economic conditions in Mexico would keep immigrants motivated to stay in the U.S. whether they have legal status or not. The criticism was echoed by Hector Palomino, 33, who emigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 2002. “It’s not right,” said Palomino, who waited outside the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in downtown Chicago for a citizenship interview Tuesday. “People have children who are U.S. citizens. They’ll be left alone.” ICE officials dismissed criticism and said the idea for the program came from immigrants and immigrant rights advocates. “These issues were brought forward to us … asking us for alternative methods to enforce the law,” he said. “This was a program we thought we could to do in affording them the opportunity to come forward without being arrested, without having detention time and allowing them to minimize impact it’s going to have on the family.” Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.