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Protesters: sick woman unknowingly signed own 'voluntary' removal

If you’re living in North Carolina or anywhere in the U.S. as an unauthorized immigrant, you should know that you have legal rights. Even if you’re arrested for a direct violation of U.S. immigration law, such as using false paperwork in order to get a job, you can’t just be detained indefinitely or deported. There are specific legal processes the government is required to use before it can legally deport you, because everyone is entitled to the due process of law.

The fact that even unauthorized immigrants have legal rights is essential for all immigrants to understand. At the same time, those legal protections slow down the process and make it much more expensive to deport someone. Therefore, Homeland Security, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have an incentive to short-circuit those legal protections.

This appears to be what happened in a recent case in Colorado. An array of pro-immigrant activist groups and religious organizations are currently protesting a decision by USCIS to deport a 51-year-old grandmother from Denver. The woman is a breast cancer survivor, and she is the sole support of her daughter and granddaughter. She also needs ongoing medical treatment that isn’t easily available in her home country.

She initially received a notice that she might be subject to deportation because she had allegedly used someone else’s paperwork in order to get a job. While that is a deportable offense if proven, she had the right to contest her deportation in court and might very well have been allowed to pay penalties and stay in the U.S.

Unfortunately, she may not have the chance to go to court at all. Apparently, her immigration lawyer had her sign a “voluntary departure order” without telling her what it was. That order constitutes her agreement to leave the U.S. immediately and not to return for 10 years, if she can return at all.

Voluntary departure orders are so controversial that the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and other groups have filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, the USCIS and the border patrol for intentionally misleading numerous immigrants about their rights in order to coerce them into signing these orders.

“I never would have signed if I had known,” she told reporters.

Will the human cost of separating a desperate family through deportation convince the USCIS to stop the deportation efforts against this woman? Only time will tell.

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