The Trump administration said Wednesday it is making more undocumented immigrants eligible to be quickly deported without a court hearing, instructing federal immigration agents to oversee the nationwide expansion of a policy that had long been limited to border areas.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is implementing new rules unveiled in July 2019 that allow agents to expand their use of "expedited removal," a fast-tracked deportation process created by a 1996 law that bars certain immigrants from seeking relief before an immigration judge.
Before the enactment of the new policy, which had been held up in federal court until last month, immigration authorities were only allowed to use expedited removal on immigrants apprehended within 100 miles from an international border who failed to demonstrate they legally entered the country and had been in the U.S. for at least two weeks.
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The expansion will apply expedited removal to undocumented immigrants apprehended anywhere in the U.S. if deportation agents determine they have lived in the country for less than two years and were not lawfully paroled or admitted. An immigrant will bear "the affirmative burden to show to the satisfaction of the encountering immigration officer" that he or she is not eligible to be summarily deported.
The Trump administration has said the new expedited removal rules will allow ICE to save funds and resources typically used for long-term detention and help the immigration court system reduce its massive case backlog.
"Our ability to implement this important statutory tool will further enable us to protect our communities and preserve the integrity of our nation's congressionally mandated immigration laws," Tony Pham, the senior official performing the duties of the ICE director, said in a statement.
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Lawyers and advocates for immigrants, however, have said the policy will trample on the due process rights of immigrants by denying them a day in court and a meaningful opportunity to seek legal counsel. They have said immigrants may find it difficult to provide documents and other evidence to prove they have been living in the U.S. for at least two years, warning that some may be placed in expedited removal proceedings despite being exempt from the policy on paper.
Donald Kerwin, the executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, a New York-based think tank, raised concerns about the power granted to ICE deportation officers through the expedited removal expansion, saying they are not neutral arbiters like immigration judges.
"To make the immigration enforcement official the judge, the prosecutor, the jury, the police — that's just ridiculous in terms of the rule of law and due process," Kerwin told CBS News.
Immigrants in expedited removal may have an opportunity to be placed in regular deportation court proceedings if an asylum officer finds they have credible fear of being persecuted in their native countries, or if they successfully prove they hold lawful permanent residency or another legal status that exempts from being summarily removed.
During a press conference in Philadelphia last week, Pham, the head of ICE, said his agents were receiving "pragmatic and robust training" to enforce the new guidelines. In its announcement Wednesday, ICE said its employees had to complete the web-based training before enforcing the policy.
According to internal guidance issued when the new rules were published last year, ICE expected to use the expanded expedited removal policy "primarily" on immigrants with criminal charges or convictions who are taken into custody at local or federal jails, and for those arrested during operations targeting worksites suspected of hiring unauthorized workers.
The guidance also stipulates that deportation agents may use their discretion to exempt some individuals from the new rules if they are longtime U.S. residents, the primary caregivers of American children or if they have strong ties to the country or appear to be eligible for relief from removal. "Mental competency issues" should also be considered if applicable, according to the ICE directive.
BuzzFeed News reported that ICE agents were told immigrants could use financial, school and employment records to prove they have been residing in the U.S. for more than two years.
ICE's push to grant deportation agents broad authority to remove immigrants who fail to prove they have been living in the U.S. for more than two years is part of President Trump's broader effort to expand immigration enforcement and scrap prosecutorial limits imposed by previous Democratic and Republican administrations.
The implementation of the expanded expedited removal policy also comes on the eve of a hotly contested presidential election that will dictate the fate of Mr. Trump's restrictive immigration agenda, which Joe Biden has vowed to dismantle.
In the weeks leading up to November's election, top homeland security officials have touted a series of ICE operations in cities across the U.S., from California to New York, that have adopted so-called "sanctuary" policies to restrict local law enforcement cooperation with federal deportation agents.
ICE also recently erected highway billboards in Pennsylvania depicting undocumented immigrants released by local police as part of an unprecedented public messaging campaign that former top agency officials denounced as inappropriate and politically-driven.
Cecilia Menjívar, a professor of sociology at UCLA, said Wednesday's announcement could instill additional anxiety among immigrant communities already apprehensive of heightened immigration enforcement during the past years. She noted that those who could be subject to the new expedited removal rules could also be members of mixed-status families, including households with U.S. citizens and green card holders.
"The expansion of expedited removal is pretty serious and huge, but it is part of a bigger picture of increased enforcement, all across the board," Menjívar told CBS News.