“This is Officer Carter. Thank you for your help with his voluntary departure.”

“Hello. My name is William Lopez. I’m calling on behalf of Carlos Mejía Montamayor(1). I wanted to talk to you about his voluntary departure(2). Can you walk me through how to purchase the ticket?”

“Hi. This is Officer Carter. Sure, I can do that.”

“Voluntary departure.”

I fuckin hate that phrase. I hated it after Verónica had a panic attack and passed out the first time she was trying to “voluntarily depart”. I hated it when she left the hospital, healed for a week, then “voluntarily” returned to the airport to try again. And I fucking hate it now.

Ok, his name is Carlos Mejía Montamayor. A Number 234765987. I wanted to buy his ticket as soon as possible because I know he needs to leave the country by December 1st for it to count as voluntary departure.”

Voluntary departure.”

It reminds me of when prisoners in Gitmo “voluntarily” confessed their crimes as they were being water boarded and thought they were going to drown.

It reminds me of protestors in Ferguson “voluntarily” pouring milk in their eyes after they had been hit with tear gas.

“Actually we have to get agents to the airport, so we can’t do it by then. We have a lot of logistics. Buy the ticket for December 5th. Honduran right? Carlos can fly out of Detroit and into Mexico City, then from Mexico City to San Pedro Sula. Does that work?”

“Ok. How do I purchase it?”

“Just from any website, like you would for yourself. Doesn’t matter. Call me back with the confirmation number.”



— — — — — -

[Text messaging]

Ángeles [la prima de Carlos]: William, ¿llamó al agente? ¿k dice el agente? ¿cuando tiene k ir Carlos?

Yo: El 5 de Dic

Ángeles: ¿Pero esto no será salida voluntaria?

Yo: Dejeme preguntar otra vez para que estemos seguros.

— —

“Hey William.”

Shit. First name basis. Recognizes the number. Ok. Ok. But I think I still need to use Sir? Agent? Officer?

“Hello Officer Carter. So I know Carlos needed to leave by December 1st for the deportation to be voluntary. So is it ok if it’s December 5th? Just wanting to verify if that’s ok with you. Sorry.”

Ugh. I recognize this, this over polite deferral to authority. When I rode with cops, same thing. Overly polite, kept my hands visible at all times. Didn’t want anyone to mistake a pen for a gun. Stakes just felt so high. I guess it’s the same thing now. I can’t piss him off. Ok, overly polite is ok. Stakes are just so high for something “voluntary.”

Sure William. I can just fill in the paperwork to extend his time in detention. This is the date that works for us. Thanks.”

“Ok, so it’s still voluntarily to leave on that date. Ok. Thanks.”

More time in detention it is.


— — — -


I’ve been to this site a gazillion times.

Oh. Oh. I guess it’s going to be different.

I guess I choose “one-way.”


Guess he won’t want the return ticket.


[next screen]

Shit. Will he be handcuffed? Is that a “special assistance” thing?

What are my choices?

No I guess there’s nothing to select here. I guess if he is cuffed, he doesn’t get special assistance.

[next screen]



“Hey William.”

“Hello Agent Carter. Should I be paying for a suitcase?”

I’ve delivered suitcases before. A bunch of us have. A bunch of us with licenses. We volunteer to do that too. We volunteer because the risk is too great for an undocumented sister to drive license-less across 94 and walk into the ICE office to deliver a suitcase. We volunteer so that one deportation does not become many. Family stuff those suitcases with clothes, toothbrushes, soap, anything that says “I love you.” They have to. Only people with licenses get to say goodbye sometimes.

“He can have a suitcase. You can pay or he can pay for it at the gate. He can have one if he wants one. But don’t put money or valuables in it.”

“Thank you.



Ok, I got it all I think. December 5th. DTW Mexico City San Pedro Sula. Yes to a suitcase.

No. No hotel. Won’t be wanting that. No rental car. Won’t want that either.

No return ticket.

— -

[Text messaging]

Yo: Hola Ángeles. Acabo de hablar con el agente. Dice k el 5 esta bien, será salida voluntaria.


Good God why is she thanking me. The agent knows my fucking name. I’m doing his job. Why is she thanking me.

Yo: No hay problema. Ya compré el boleto.

Ángeles: ¿Y la maleta?

Yo: Si, bajo de 40 libres.

Ángeles: GRACIAS.¿Y cuando llega Carlos en San Pedro?

Yo: A las 11 de la noche.

Yo: Mire, ¿como ha estado su hijo? Sé k cuatro hombres en su vida ha sido deportado.

Ángeles: Muy duro. No ha parado de llorar. No ha parado.



Ángeles: ¿Y la maleta?

Yo: Si, bajo de 40 libres.

Ángeles: Mil gracias.

Yo: Claro.

God, what the fuck is she thanking me for.

“Hey William.”

“Hello Agent Carter. The confirmation number is 98123445235. DTW to MEX to SAP, December 5th.”


“Ok, anything left? Nothing left to do now but… pray for him?”

“Yes, that’s it. Thank you for your help.”

For my help? Well, it was voluntary.


  1. As always, names and details are changed. Sometimes, while an individual incident may inspire a particular story, characters and situations may be composites of multiple people or events.
  2. “Voluntary departure” sounds simple at face value, but is actually a complicated ethical dilemma that plays out in the lives of mixed-status families throughout the country. Essentially, when an undocumented individual is detained, he may be given the option to “voluntarily depart” or await his immigration case, the outcome of which may be a removal order (“deportation”). Many individuals choose to “voluntarily depart” because they cannot tolerate being in detention any longer, cannot afford a lawyer, or believe a successful case to be unlikely. Additionally, the ban on re-entry into the U.S. varies for deportation versus voluntary departure. Generally speaking, when one is deported, he becomes “inadmissable” to the US for a number of years. When one voluntarily departs, he is not “inadmissable,” and there is the hope of one day returning to the United States. As we discuss here, whether one will actually be able to return is never known, and community members must make these decisions by weighing the violence of detention and the ephemeral hope of possibly returning to their homes in the U.S. at an unknown time in the future.

PhD in public health. He/Him. 🌈✊🏽. Talk and write about immigration. Author of “Separated: Family and Community in the Aftermath of an Immigration Raid”

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