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According to a study by The Marshall Project, the number of voluntary departures have “soared” since the election of President Trump. The study's authors say this is a signal that “[m]ore people are considering leaving the U.S., rather than being stuck in detention or taking on a lengthy legal battle with little hope of success.”

Voluntary departure allows an alien to leave the U.S. without adding a deportation to his/her record. Such aliens are not subject to the three- or ten-year ban on reentering the United States. And if they are apprehended after reentering illegally, they won’t face serious prison time. It is considered a privilege but many illegal aliens consider it a last resort since they are giving up the legal battle to remain in the U.S.

The Marshall Project obtained and analyzed Justice Department data that show the number of voluntary departure applications doubled between fiscal years 2017 and 2018 and reached a seven-year high of 29,818. By comparison, overall immigration cases increased 17 percent during that period. The number of applications filed during October 2018, the beginning of fiscal year 2019, was 4,192 - a record.

Voluntary departure applications must be approved by an immigration judge. The data show a 50 percent increase in the number of requests granted in fiscal year 2017, which began just before Trump’s election. Since then, the number of voluntary departures has exceeded the number of applications. This can occur because judges can grant voluntary departure without a formal application, and not every case is resolved during the year it is filed.

The Trump Administration early on touted the spike in voluntary departures, saying it was caused by the return of Rule-of-Law policies. But other factors may be having an impact as well. With the growing backlog of immigration cases, judges may be opting to resolve cases quickly through voluntary departure rather than see them extended through multiple appeals. Also, deportees may increasingly view voluntary departure as preferable to extended detention. “Detainees talk to each other,” said Trina Realmuto, an attorney for the American Immigration Council. “The one guy fighting his case is going to say, ‘I’ve been here a year and nobody wins.’ There are legal factors, and there’s human factors.”

Read more at The Marshal Project.

Updated: Thu, May 9th 2019 @ 2:50pm EDT