More than 50 community members, policymakers and immigrant rights activists attended The Chicago Reporter’s “Still in the Shadows?” immigration forum on May 13 at Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen. Photo by Lucio Villa.

Under the current U.S. immigration law, there is virtually no relief for immigrants who have already been deported, particularly if they left the country without a judicial hearing. But there is the possibility of some relief in the proposed immigration reform bill pending before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, according to a panel of immigration experts The Chicago Reporter convened to discuss the bill.

The Reporter’s May/June investigation, “Speedy Removal,” showed that more than half of the 25,000 immigrants deported between fiscal years 2008 and 2011 from Illinois and surrounding states left the country without appearing before a judge. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement is increasingly employing these fast-track deportations, the Reporter found.

A big chunk of the immigrants who faced fast-track deportation—11,743 between 2008 and 2011—had signed “stipulated orders of removal,” which waive their rights to an immigration hearing.

But in many cases, immigrants who sign those stipulated orders don’t realize that they are waiving their rights to go through court, or that there may be ways to fight their deportations, said Mary Meg McCarthy, executive director of the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center. The center is a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides free or affordable legal services to immigrants.

McCarthy spoke at the Reporter’s Town Hall Forum, “Still in the Shadows?” held May 13 in Pilsen. The forum included an interview with U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois’ 4th Congressional District. The program also featured testimony from an undocumented Polish immigrant and a woman whose husband is currently in federal prison for attempting to cross the border multiple times.

The audience of more than 50 included members of the Pilsen community, many of whom are immigrants, as well as attorneys, policymakers and immigrant rights activists.

The proposed legislation would create a mechanism to make sure that immigrants are properly signing stipulated orders of removal.

“The senate bill contains a provision that will allow individuals who signed a stipulated removal form to see an immigration judge,” McCarthy said. “The judge will make a determination whether that individual signed that document knowingly and voluntarily.”

The proposed bill also cracks open a window for people who have already been deported.

“The bill does provide a provision that allows individuals who are ordered deported and have been deported to return to the U.S. if their deportation is not connected to a crime,” McCarthy said.

“It is critical that we hold on to these provisions during the next couple of months” as the bill moves through the Senate, she said.

Gutiérrez, who was in Miami, joined the conversation by Skype. He said he was doing his utmost to get the bill passed with the provisions to help immigrants, but there was a need for some compromise. “There is a broken immigration system,” Gutiérrez said. “There is medicine.

Republicans have certain medicine they want people to take to heal the system, and the Democrats have it, too,” Gutiérrez said. The GOP is interested in increased border enforcement, and Democrats are pushing for a path to legalization.

What will really heal the system, Gutiérrez said, is compromise.

“It’s like the doctor says—‘you have to take them both or you are not going to get well.’”

is a blogger/reporter at The Chicago Reporter.