By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
President Donald Trump has made border security and the deportation of illegal immigrants two of the top priorities of his administration. However, his methods for achieving these two goals have continually stirred up controversy.
In contrast to former President Barack Obama’s policy of seeking to deport immigrants with criminal records first, Trump has sought to cast a wider net. In the latest policy consideration, administration officials are weighing whether or not to expand the deportation powers of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which could potentially affect hundreds of thousands of people living in the U.S. illegally.
Draft DHS Memo
The authority for expedited deportations has been in place for two decades. According to the Washington Post, Congress authorized the use of expedited deportations in 1996 for illegal immigrants apprehended anywhere in the U.S. who could not prove they had been physically present in the country two years before their apprehension. The powers were used almost exclusively at the border, however, and in 2004 the George W. Bush administration issued guidelines stipulating that the expedited removals could be used for those apprehended within 100 miles of the border who had lived in the country fewer than 14 days. Under the new proposal outlined in a draft DHS memo, the agency would be empowered to seek the expedited removal of illegal immigrants apprehended anywhere in the U.S. who cannot prove they have lived in the country continuously for more than 90 days.
In 2013, almost half of all individuals deported from the U.S. were done so through expedited removal proceedings. Many of these cases happen near the border shortly after an individual is apprehended. If he or she does not request asylum and does not qualify for relief from removal, the immigrant signs the removal paperwork and is sent back to his or her country of origin. Immigrant rights advocates warn that the policy would strip more immigrants of due-process rights to seek asylum or other legal protections that would allow them to remain in the country. DHS officials dispute this view, saying that the new policy would simply allow the agency to take advantage of its discretion that has been permitted under federal law for more than two decades.
400 Immigrant Arrests Per Day
The numbers reflect both sharply increasing numbers of expedited removals over the years, as well as a backlog of immigration court cases that is growing at an alarming rate. The use of expedited removals rose substantially in the decade after the Bush administration implemented its guidelines, spiking from about 50,000 immigrants in 2004 to 193,000 in 2013 under Obama. The Post reported that in May 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it was arresting more than 400 immigrants a day. In Trump’s first three months in office, ICE arrested 41,318 immigrants, up 37.6 percent over the same period last year. The current immigration court backlog sits at more than 600,000 cases with a wait of up to 3 to 5 years for a hearing date.
This new policy is still in draft form, and DHS is currently reviewing comments on it from the Office of Management and Budget. It would not require Congressional approval for implementation, and while DHS Secretary John Kelly has made no final decisions on the policy, DHS spokeswoman Joanne F. Talbot said, “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.”