For many who are immigrants to the United States, the thought of deportation is the worst they can imagine. It may mean separation from loved ones, loss of sustainability and the potential for removal to a country that is no longer familiar. However, for some foreign nationals who are incarcerated in Michigan prisons, the option of voluntary removal may not sound so bad.

In 2007, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began developing a program to reduce the number of immigrants in prisons and jails across the country. The program is called Rapid Removal of Eligible Parolees Accepted for Transfer, or Rapid REPAT. Those who are eligible for the program can decide, with the advice of an attorney, whether it is better to remain in prison or jail to serve their entire sentence or to accept early release in exchange for voluntarily returning to their home countries.

Eligible inmates must be convicted of nonviolent crimes and under a final order to leave the country at the end of their incarceration. They must be willing to waive their right to appeal their convictions, and their home countries must agree to accept them when they are released. Anyone released under the Rapid REPAT program who subsequently tries to reenter the country risks reincarceration to complete the original sentence plus the potential of up to 20 additional years in prison.

The Rapid REPAT program has many financial benefits for Michigan and other states that employ it. It may also benefit those for whom voluntary removal to their home country is worth the exchange of an early release. However, such decisions have serious long-term consequences, so it is wise for those facing such choices to discuss the matter with an experienced attorney.