Thousands of undocumented immigrants who were deported from the U.S. to Mexico will have a second opportunity to make their plea to stay in the U.S.

Undocumented immigrants who signed "voluntary" return forms in Southern California have been instructed by a U.S. District Court Judge John A. Kronstadt to return to the U.S. She approved a settlement regarding "deceptive tactics" conducted by immigration enforcement officers who made non-citizen immigrants sign voluntary return documents without the right to see a judge and their fair day in immigration court.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the number of affected undocumented immigrants ranges from hundreds to potentially thousands.

Gabriela Rivera, staff attorney of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said Kronstadt's ruling recognizes the rights granted by the Constitution. He added, "Now we can begin the process of reuniting some of the families who could have remained together in the United States but were driven apart by government practices that rely upon misinformation, deception and coercion."

"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 LLP, in a statement. "We are heartened by [Kronstadt's] ruling, which will allow for the reunification of numerous families that were wrongfully separated."

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Kronstadt's decision comes after the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and Cooley LLP filed the Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson lawsuit in June 2013. The ACLU lawsuit on prepared on behalf of individual plaintiffs who were deported from the U.S. and for organizations who "were forced to divert scarce resources in response to these unlawful practices."

The ACLU noted the plaintiffs had "no significant" criminal backgrounds but agents and officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) "misstated" the effects of signing the voluntary return documents. In August 2014, nine plaintiffs were given the opportunity to return to the U.S. and provided the same legal status before signing such documents.

With Kronstadt's ruling, the ACLU and three organizational plaintiffs, including the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the Pomona Economic Opportunity Center and the San Bernardino Community Service Center, have confirmed a search will occur for eligible individuals in Mexico.

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"This deportation machine unfortunately is something that has touched the lives of many people in our community," said Pomona Economic Opportunity Center Executive Director Fernando Romero. "It's something that has broken up families and shattered the hope and dreams of many good, hard-working people. It is something that many of us have been affected by either directly via family ties or indirectly through friends and co-workers. We're happy because this settlement will bring back some of the individuals who were lost and reunite them with their loved ones and put them back on their path for a better life."

As the ACLU noted, to qualify for the voluntary return settlement, an individual must have signed the voluntary return form between June 1, 2009, and Aug. 28, 2014, and been deported to Mexico. The deportee must also have "reasonable claims" to lawfully live in the U.S. at the time they originally signed the voluntary return forms and have been processed by CBP officers from the San Diego Sector or ICE's San Diego and Los Angeles offices. The eligible individual must currently reside in Mexico at the time to apply for the settlement. The ACLU and its approved service providers will be responsible to submit the settlement applications.


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