New Immigration Strategy—Deport Yourself

Hernan Rozemberg, San Antonio Express-News, July 30, 2008

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Scheduled to be unveiled next week, it was announced Sunday by Julie Myers, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in an interview with a Spanish-language television network.

Myers told the network that “Operation Scheduled Departure” will allow illegal immigrants without criminal records a chance to literally “self-deport” by turning themselves in to her agents.

She said the idea derived from a common complaint voiced by immigrant detainees: If given the opportunity, they’d rather just go home than be holed up in immigration prisons.

Under the new program, those still walking free will have the chance to walk into ICE offices, be processed and get a few weeks to arrange their affairs, pack their belongings and ship out of the country without being detained.

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Myers said the program would allow immigrants to avoid the increasing risks of being picked up in a raid at home or at work, but would offer no additional incentives to turn themselves in—no chance at qualifying for an amnesty, for example.

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Proposal met with scorn

Immigrant advocates called it a laughable charade with little to no chance of succeeding without any carrots to offer self-deportees.

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If people truly wanted to leave on their own, they’d buy their own bus or plane ticket home without checking in with ICE first, Rivlin [Doug Rivlin, National Immigration Forum] said.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the country’s largest anti-illegal-immigration lobby group based in Washington, said he’d have to concede that point.

The government would have to offer some kind of incentive to entice immigrants to sign up, such as telling them that by leaving voluntarily they would be allowed to apply to come back legally, Mehlman said.

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While it remains to be seen whether the idea works for ICE, another federal agency that came up with the idea three years ago claims it has worked well.

“Fugitive Safe Surrender” offers non-violent criminals with arrest warrants a chance to give themselves up to the U.S. Marshals Service instead of being hunted down. So far more than 16,000 have accepted the offer.

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