The Trump administration is weighing a proposal to give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) expanded powers to deport illegal immigrants without first obtaining an order of removal from an immigration judge.
Under the new guidelines, immigration authorities could initiate deportation proceedings against illegal aliens anywhere in the U.S. that cannot prove they have lived in the country for more than 90 consecutive days, according to an internal agency memo obtained by The Washington Post.
Current rules, implemented by the Bush administration in 2004, limit expedited deportation to illegal aliens that have been in the country for less than two weeks and that were apprehended within 100 miles of the border.
Administration officials confirmed that the revised guidelines are under review. The DHS memo was first delivered to the White House in May and agency officials are reviewing comments on the document from the Office of Management and Budget.
“The potential changes would allow DHS to more efficiently use resources to remove persons who have been illegally present for relatively brief periods of time while still observing due-process requirements,” said DHS spokeswoman Joanne F. Talbot.
She added that DHS Secretary John Kelly has not made a final decision to approve the proposed changes.
If adopted, the rules would give the DHS power to increase both the number and pace of deportations, a key component of President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement strategy. Trump sought to expand the use of expedited removals in a pair of January executive orders, rescinding Obama administration guidelines that limited deportation to illegal aliens convicted of serious criminal offenses. More recently, the U.S. has cut by nearly half the number of countries that refuse to accept illegal immigrants that the U.S. is trying to deport.
The DHS memo says greater expedited removal authority “will enhance national security and public safety” begin to clear the “historic backlogs” at U.S. immigration courts. The number of pending immigration hearings recently hit a record high of nearly 600,000, despite a recent surge of new judges, according to government data.
Technically, the DHS proposal stops far short of legal limits on expedited deportations. In 1996, Congress authorized the procedure for any illegal alien that could not prove they had been physically present in the country two years before their arrest.
Talbot says the DHS memo simply recommends that the Trump administration avail itself of existing immigration enforcement authority.
“Anyone who is surprised that the administration is considering lawfully expanding the use of expedited removal has not been paying attention,” Talbot said.
“The expansion you describe is explicitly allowed” under federal law.
Unaccompanied minors are not currently subject to expedited deportations, nor would they be under the new guidelines that are under review, officials said.
“If you have to give people genuine due process, you can’t just move people out of the country with the snap of your fingers,” said Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants Rights Project.
“But once you start instituting summary removal processes all over the country, then you can start seeing mass deportations.”
“Right now, someone apprehended in St. Louis would be entitled to a full hearing,” he said.
“With expedited removal, you pick a person up, and they could be gone immediately.”