The Trump administration on Tuesday will significantly expand its power to quickly deport undocumented immigrants who have illegally entered the United States within the past two years, using a fast-track deportation process that bypasses immigration judges.
Officials are calling the new strategy, which will take effect immediately, a “necessary response” to the influx of Central Americans and others at the southern border. It will allow immigration authorities to quickly remove immigrants from anywhere they encounter them across the United States, and they expect the approach will help alleviate the nation’s immigration-court backlog and free up space in Immigration and Customs Enforcement jails.
The stated targets of the change are people who sneaked into the United States and do not have an asylum case or immigration-court date pending. Previously, the administration’s policy for “expedited removal” had been limited to migrants caught within 100 miles of the U.S. border who had been in the country for less than two weeks. The new rule would apply to immigrants anywhere in the United States who have been in the country for less than two years — adhering to a time limit included in the 1996 federal law that authorized the expedited process.
Immigrants apprehended in Iowa, Nebraska or other inland states would have to prove to immigration officials that they have been in the United States continuously for the past two years, or they could end up in an immigration jail facing quick deportation. And it could be relatively low-level immigration officers — not officers of a court — making the decisions.
President Trump has promised to deport millions of immigrants and has threatened enforcement raids targeting those in as many as 10 major cities.
Nearly 300,000 of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States could be subject to expedited removal, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. The typical undocumented immigrant has lived in the United States for 15 years, according to the Pew Research Center.
Though border apprehensions have fallen in June and July as the Trump administration and Mexico have intensified their crackdown on the southern border, acting Department of Homeland Security chief Kevin McAleenan said in a draft notice Monday that “the implementation of additional measures is a necessary response to the ongoing immigration crisis.” He said the new rule would take effect immediately upon publication in the Federal Register, which is scheduled for Tuesday.
“DHS has determined that the volume of illegal entries, and the attendant risks to national security and public safety presented by these illegal entries, warrants this immediate implementation of DHS’s full statutory authority over expedited removal,” McAleenan said in the notice. “DHS expects that the full use of expedited removal statutory authority will strengthen national security, diminish the number of illegal entries, and otherwise ensure the prompt removal of aliens apprehended in the United States.”
Immigration lawyers said that the expansion is unprecedented and effectively gives U.S. agents the power to issue deportation orders without bringing immigrants before a judge or allowing them to speak with a lawyer.
“Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court,” Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement. “We will sue to end this policy quickly.”
Royce Bernstein Murray of the American Immigration Council also vowed to challenge the policy in court, arguing that the broadened authority allows DHS “to essentially be both prosecutor and judge.”
Immigrants’ advocates warned that the policy could ensnare longtime legal residents or even U.S. citizens who have been deported in error before. Vanita Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said she fears the rule will lead to increased racial profiling and turn ICE into a “show-me-your-papers militia.”
“This new directive flows directly from the racist rhetoric that the president has been using for the last week and indeed months, but this new rule is going to terrorize communities of color,” said Gupta, who was head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama. “It really reads as a send-them-all-back policy,” she added, referring to the audience’s “Send her back!” chants at a Trump rally last week in response to the president’s attacks on a Somali-born Muslim congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.
David Leopold, a Cleveland immigration lawyer and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said expanding the expedited-removal program shifts the decision-making to immigration officers who might not have much experience with such a policy and means that many immigrants who might have the right to remain in the country will not be given the opportunity to show it.
“That is going to apply to a huge swath of people,” he said, noting that the rule requires migrants to prove that they have been in the United States for years — a particularly difficult onus when they, by definition, lack legal-immigration documents. “My view is: How are they going to prove it? The burden is on them to prove it. If I can’t prove it, I’m done.”
ICE, which enforces immigration law and makes arrests across the United States, estimates that “a significant number” of undocumented immigrants would be eligible for expedited removal, including at least 20,500 migrants the agency apprehended last fiscal year and more than 6,400 it arrested this year, as of March 30.
McAleenan, in the federal notice, made reference to the Trump administration’s recent efforts to deter migration to the United States on many fronts, an approach that has included pushing asylum claimants back into Mexico to await court hearings, stepped up Mexican enforcement against migrants as they head north, and the threat of ICE raids on families who have final removal orders. McAleenan wrote that the new rule “will reduce incentives” for migrants to enter the United States and swiftly move away from the border to avoid the faster deportation process.
DHS said it has anecdotal evidence that many immigrants smuggled into the United States hide in “safe houses” far from the southern border to avoid the threat of expedited removal. This year officials said 67 undocumented immigrants were found in a safe house in Roswell, N.M., — just beyond 100 miles from the Mexican border — and the year before they found three others, held for ransom, at a house in San Antonio, about 150 miles from the border.
Federal officials said they could make exceptions for people with serious medical conditions or “substantial connections” to the United States, and they said deportation is not necessarily immediate. Officials said they have safeguards in place for migrants who might be U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Asylum officers will interview immigrants who fear returning to their home countries, to determine whether they qualify for asylum or another form of protection, and they potentially could refer them to full deportation proceedings. Unaccompanied minors from non-neighboring countries are not eligible for speedy deportations under federal law.
Expedited removals stem from a 1996 law, signed by President Bill Clinton, that authorized the use of expedited deportations for undocumented immigrants apprehended anywhere in the country who could not prove they had been physically present in the country two years before their apprehension.