'Self-deporting' program for illegal immigrants set to begin

Just days before a new federal experiment to persuade some illegal immigrants to "self-deport" is to start, a nongovernmental report released Wednesday suggests that many already are leaving on their own.

Officials at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Wednesday that a deportation pilot program will be held for 18 days, between Aug. 5 and Aug. 22, and could apply to more than 500,000 people.

ICE has a list of about 572,000 "fugitive aliens," officials said. About 535,400 of those fugitives are illegal immigrants with no criminal records who have exhausted all legal appeals to remain in the United States but haven't left.

On Aug. 5, these noncriminal immigrants will be eligible to call a toll-free number, come forward and be given as many as 90 days to get their affairs in order before they are deported, said Jim Hayes, acting director of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal.

"The benefit is (in) not being detained," Hayes said.

Those interested can report to ICE offices in Santa Ana, San Diego, Chicago, Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C.

Hayes explained that many immigrants would prefer to leave on their own terms rather than be picked up in their homes suddenly during ICE searches and then jailed for what can be an indefinite period of time.

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