When I go to Immigration Court in Boston, my goal is to protect my clients from deportation. I work hard to explore all options, to come up with a winning strategy and to prepare my cases in a way that ensures success. Of course, I want my clients to come away with a green card.
But the sad reality is that for some people who must appear in Immigration Court, the facts of their particular cases render them ineligible for any relief from deportation. For such cases, there is simply no way under the current immigration laws to prevent deportation. And, when faced with limited options, many lawyers routinely ask the Immigration Judge for an order of voluntary departure.
Voluntary departure permits a person to leave the United States voluntary and it removes a bar to inadmissibility that would otherwise result from being deported, i.e., receiving an order of removal. The consequences of being deported are indeed severe. If you receive an order of removal, you would be inadmissible for 10 years. And this 10 year bar runs from the date that you are physically removed from the United States, not the date that the Immigration Judge ordered your removal.
Although voluntary departure may help you avoid deportation, the consequences of failing to comply with a voluntary departure order may be worse than deportation itself. Consider that a person who is granted voluntary departure after 1996 but fails to voluntarily leave the United States may face:
- civil penalties including fines of $3,000; and
- a 10-year bar from important immigration options such as cancellation of removal, adjustment of status, and change of status;
Also, it is harder to file a motion to reopen or reconsider a voluntary departure order, although this issue has been the subject of extensive litigation and new regulations.
These stiff penalties for those who violate an order of voluntary departure do not apply to people who are given orders of removal or deportation. And what’s worse, once a person fails to voluntarily leave the U.S., the voluntary departure order then becomes an order of removal or deportation. If such a person decides to leave the U.S. after failing to depart voluntarily as required, this later departure is considered “self-removal,” which is the equivalent of deportation.
Sure, voluntary departure may sound better than deportation. But if an Immigration Judge gives you an order of voluntary departure and
you fail to depart, you may end up in a worse position than someone who
simply receives an order of removal or deportation. You should not consider voluntary departure unless you are truly prepared to leave the United States, preferably in consultation with an immigration lawyer and as part of a strategy to return to the US. The decision becomes complicated because many people who are in deportation proceedings face additional grounds of inadmissibility for being unlawfully present in the U.S.
In short, voluntary departure is relief from deportation. Yet given the harsh consequences, for most people, I consider voluntary departure to be a cure that is worse than the disease.