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Migrants detained in US must apply to return home

July 26, 2019 GMT

CLAIM: Detained migrants are free to leave detention centers anytime to go back to Mexico. 

AP ASSESSMENT: False. Migrants are not free to leave a detention centers at any time, but they can request a voluntary departure to their country of origin if they meet certain requirements.

THE FACTS: A text post being shared extensively on Facebook incorrectly states that “illegals are free to leave detention centers anytime to go back to Mexico.” That is not the case.

“Bottom line, individuals who are being held in ICE or CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) custody pursuant to their immigration proceedings are generally not able to leave custody and certainly not at any time of their choosing,” Katie Shepherd, national advocacy counsel with the American Immigration Council, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. 

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Migrants who decide they want to leave detention facilities for their home country can seek voluntary departure. The migrant must have been in the U.S. for at least a year; and migrants charged with serious crimes may not be eligible to leave, according to immigration experts.

A migrant can request voluntary departure at their initial hearing with the immigration judge. Getting a hearing takes on average 30 to 60 days, Shepherd said. If the request is approved, regulations state migrants have 120 days to leave the U.S, she said. If the person does not return within the time period granted, the voluntary departure can become an order of removal, hindering their chances of later returning to the U.S. 

For asylum seekers, applying for voluntary departure comes with steep consequences since they’d have to discard their asylum application.

 “If you are asking for voluntary departure that means that you are not afraid to return to your country,” Kelli Stump, an immigration attorney based in Oklahoma, told the AP. “The consequences are the judge is going to have my application withdrawn with prejudice meaning that I can’t file it again.” 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536