San Diego – March 16, 2015 – Cooley, along with the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, has received final approval on a landmark settlement with the US Government. The settlement allows for potentially thousands of noncitizens, who signed "voluntary" return forms in Southern California and as a result were expelled to Mexico, to be given the opportunity to apply to return to the United States and seek legal status.
The settlement addresses deceptive tactics used by immigration enforcement officers who denied plaintiffs their constitutional right to see a judge and have a fair day in court in connection with signing voluntary return documents between June 2009, and August 2014, in San Diego or Los Angeles counties. The settlement was approved by Judge John A. Kronstadt.
In June 2013, the aforementioned organizations filed the lawsuit, Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, on behalf of individual plaintiffs who were wrongfully expelled from the United States and organizations that were forced to divert their scarce resources in response to these unlawful practices. The individual plaintiffs had no criminal backgrounds, and their family ties could have helped them obtain relief against deportation had Border Patrol agents or ICE officers not misstated the consequences of signing away their rights to see an immigration judge. Under the terms of the settlement, nine plaintiffs returned to the United States in August 2014, with the same legal status they had before signing the documents.
"The United States derives its core strength from embracing the notions of fairness and due process established by our Constitution," said Darcie Tilly, litigation associate at Cooley. "We are heartened by today's ruling, which will allow for the reunification of numerous families that were wrongfully separated."
The ACLU and the three organizational plaintiffs, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center, and the San Bernardino Community Service Center, are currently searching for potential class members in Mexico.
The Cooley team included partner Tony Stiegler and associates Darcie Tilly, Craig TenBroeck, Lindsay Chapman, Matthew Krengel and Neal Gibeault.
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