My uncle was caught by immigration officers in Arizona about ten months after overstaying his visa. He is being held in detained. He says his detention conditions are very bad, but we can’t afford a lawyer right now. He says immigration officers have told him that things will be better for him if he accepts to be deported back to Peru quickly (without seeing a judge). This sounds like a good idea based on what I read about voluntary departure (and the fact that he has no close family here nor other apparent reason that might allow him to stay in the U.S.). Is it?
It could be a bad idea. First of all, though it is true that it might be better for your uncle to get voluntary departure instead of fighting his case while being detained and then getting a removal order, he might like to find out whether or not he really needs to be detained before taking any other step. Asking for a bond hearing would help shed light on this. (He could also request to be let out on parole.)
Second of all, it is very important not to confuse a request for voluntary departure with stipulated removal.
Voluntary departure is an immigration benefit that your uncle can get directly from immigration officers of the Department of Homeland Security through Form I-210, Voluntary Departure and Verification of Departure.
Stipulated removal is a signed agreement to be ordered removed by an immigration court without seeing a judge, with no immigration benefit whatsoever. While voluntary departure can protect a noncitizen’s rights to return to the U.S. in the near future, a stipulated removal will likely come with a bar upon returning for several years.
Stipulated removals are just as bad as other types of removal orders. Your uncle will not get any special benefit for agreeing to be deported. If he does not like his detention conditions, he should instead consider asking to speak with the Officer-in-Charge at the detention center, or asking for a Detainee Grievance Form, or (perhaps with your help) contacting the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.
Besides, a stipulation might require him to make certain admissions that could hurt his eligibility for a waiver or other forms of immigration relief in the future.
Nevertheless, there have been reports that many detained immigrants who do not have a lawyer have been misled into signing such stipulations. Therefore, you might want to make sure that your uncle asks specifically for voluntary departure if that is really what he wants, and signs a stipulation only if he does not qualify for the former.