The Trump administration announced on Monday it is expanding fast-track deportation regulations to include the removal of undocumented immigrants who cannot prove they have been in the U.S. continuously for two years or more.
The change dramatically expands the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to quickly deport certain immigrants without any of the due-process protections granted to most other people, including the right to an attorney and to a hearing before a judge. It is set to go into effect Tuesday and is the latest escalation of the Trump administration's immigration crackdown.
"The effect of that change will be to enhance national security and public safety — while reducing government costs — by facilitating prompt immigration determinations," DHS said in a notice.
Additionally, DHS stated part of the purpose for the policy revision is to "harmonize" existing regulations to apply equally to undocumented immigrants who arrive by land and sea.
Currently, undocumented immigrants who cross into the U.S. by land can be deported without an immigration hearing if they are arrested within 100 miles of the border during the first 14 days after their arrival. Those who arrive by sea can be deported without legal proceedings if they are unable to prove they have been living in the U.S. for two years or more.
But under the latest proposal, all geographical limitations would be lifted and rapid removal proceedings would be applied to all undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for less than two years.
The move is also designed to mitigate a massive court backlog of immigration cases "and will reduce the significant costs to the government associated with full removal proceedings before an immigration judge." DHS said that as of June there were 909,034 pending immigration cases. It estimates the average removal proceeding for an undocumented immigrant not being held in detention "has been pending for more than two years before an immigration judge."
In early 2017, days after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order directing DHS to expand the use of expedited removal. The order designated recent unauthorized arrivals as a top priority for deportation.
"We plan on challenging the change ... speedily," Anand Balakrishnan, Senior Staff Attorney for the ACLU's Immigrant Rights Project told NPR.
Balakrishnan called the policy shift "extremely sweeping," and said it authorizes any Customs and Border Protection officer to determine whether a person has been in the U.S. the requisite amount of time to trigger legal proceedings.
"The only way out of that is for the person to affirmatively prove that they've been here for two years or more. To have that evidence on them at all times," he said. "It puts the burden on every noncitizen to prove their continuous presence."
He noted, deportations could happen within hours of a person's arrest.
"From what we know about the way expedited removals have been administered in the past, it's been rife with errors," Balakrishnan said. "U.S. citizens have been ordered deported" and in other cases, people who have lived in the country for more than a decade have also been ejected, he said.
The DHS notice stated unaccompanied children may not be placed in expedited removal under current law. Further, undocumented immigrants can apply for asylum when they are apprehended, potentially delaying an immediate deportation until a credible-fear hearing and a determination is made. People who are deported under expedited removal regulations have no right to appeal.
The pro-immigration American Immigration Council estimates thousands of people could be deported as a result of the expansion.