Illegal Immigrants Urged To 'Schedule Departure'

This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started offering illegal immigrants a chance to turn themselves in and negotiate their own deportation. Immigration officials say they hope that the program will help avoid trauma to the illegal immigrants' families.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up on the program, we'll hear from a 22-year-old mountain climber who barely avoided the tragedy on Pakistan's K2 Mountain this week, and we'll hear from his mother.

CHADWICK: First, the federal government today is making a new offer to illegal immigrants. If you turn yourself in, you won't be immediately arrested and deported.

BRAND: Instead, you get three months to get your affairs in order, maybe arrange for your family to go with you, and then you are deported.

CHADWICK: This is a pilot program in five cities. It's limited to illegal immigrants who do not have criminal records. NPR's Ted Robbins explains.

TED ROBBINS: When someone is arrested for being in the U.S. illegally near the border, they're usually offered the opportunity to leave voluntarily, without being charged. Deeper inside the country or after being caught a number of times, an illegal immigrant may be charged and convicted.

People with criminal records are locked up, but most people are here for work or family. They get a civil conviction, not a criminal charge. Still, lots of them disappear while their removal is being arranged, so immigration and customs enforcement teams go out to arrest them. Jim Hayes is acting director of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations.

Mr. JIM HAYES (Acting Director, ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations): We will either arrest someone at their business, their place of residence, at a family member's house, wherever we can encounter them.

ROBBINS: They're deported anywhere from the same day to a couple of weeks later. That's been criticized as inhumane. So ICE is now allowing those people called non-criminal fugitive aliens to turn themselves in, no detention, with up to 90 days to arrange their affairs before leaving.

Mr. HAYES: And actually set the terms of their removal, provided, again, that it is within those 90 days.

ROBBINS: It's a pilot program for three weeks in five cities, San Diego, Santa Ana, California, Phoenix, Chicago, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Hayes says tracking devices, such as ankle bracelets, may be used, but mostly the fugitive aliens will be asked to stay in contact. He's largely hoping that anyone willing to turn themselves in will not become fugitives again. Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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