Homeland Security announced an aggressive new policy Monday to fast-track deportations of recent immigrants caught in the living in the U.S. illegally, looking to expand a tool that’s been used successfully at the border for years.
Expedited removal allows immigration officers to order a deportation without the extensive immigration court proceedings and appeals that accompany other removals. For years, it’s been applied to immigrants caught within 100 miles of the border who illegally entered in recent weeks.
Under the policy, which acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced in a notice published online, immigrants who entered illegally within the last two years, and were caught anywhere in the U.S., can face expedited removal.
Mr. McAleenan cast the move in part as a response to the migrant surge, which has overwhelmed his agents at the border, allowing more people to sneak by and into the interior.
“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,” the secretary wrote.
Immigrant-rights groups, though, vowed lawsuits to try to stop the new policy.
“Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court,” said Omar Jadwat at the American Civil Liberties Union.
Tens of thousands of immigrants could be subject to expedited removal.
Mr. McAleenan said that could help clear the massive backlog in the immigration courts, since the cases would be decided by immigration officers rather than administrative law judges.
It also means having to hold people in detention at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a shorter time. The average custody period for someone in full removal proceedings in 2018 was more than 50 days. For expedited removal cases, it was just 11 days.
Expedited removal was part of a 1996 law passed by Congress and signed by then-President Clinton — though it was the Bush administration that set the old rules, applying it to within 100 miles of the border and within the first two weeks of someone illegally crossing.
Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said courts have generally upheld expedited removal powers, finding that they were sufficiently limited by time and geography.
He predicted on Twitter that nationwide expansion “is going to provoke massive relitigation of those claims.”
Mr. McAleenan, in the new notice, said the 100-mile policy ignores some obvious cases where expedited removal would be appropriate. He pointed out that major cities in border states are often more than 100 miles from the border itself — such as Roswell, New Mexico, where 67 immigrants were found living illegally in the U.S. at a stash house earlier this year.
Under expedited removal, the burden is on the target to prove they didn’t enter illegally within the last two years.
Migrants could still apply for asylum or other protections under the same rules that apply at the border for expedited removal, the secretary said.
Still, immigration activists said expanding the policy creates a “show your papers” situation where even U.S. citizens could be snared and struggle to prove their bona fides.
“How are people supposed to prepare for this?” wondered David Leopold, a former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “This designation contains nothing about how a lawful permanent resident should prepare. Should they be carrying passports and immigration papers at all times? How do we answer the question ‘papers please?’ We don’t know.”
He also said the new policy could also be used by unscrupulous employers who have immigrants living in the U.S. illegally in their workforce. If those workers are unruly, employers can now threaten a call to ICE.
“And among the bad actor employers is Donald Trump at his golf clubs,” Mr. Leopold said, referring to a number of current and former immigrants living in the U.S. illegally who have come forward to say they’d been employed at Trump properties.
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