The Human Cost of Fast-Track DeportationThe Human Cost of Fast-Track Deportation
By Beth Werlin
Ms. Werlin is the executive director of the American Immigration Council.
The Trump administration’s expansion of the use of fast-track deportations through “expedited removal” will create a “show me your papers” regime nationwide in which people — including citizens — may be forced to quickly prove they should not be deported. This policy allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to quickly deport someone without going before an immigration judge, undermining American principles of fundamental fairness and putting United States citizens, permanent residents and asylum-seekers at risk of wrongful deportation.
For 15 years, the government has been applying expedited removal in a limited way to those within 100 miles of the Canadian or Mexican border who have been in the United States for less than two weeks. The entire process consists of an interview with an immigration officer during which the burden is on the individual to prove a legal right to remain in the United States. One could be questioned, detained and deported very swiftly with little time to consult a lawyer or to gather evidence to prevent deportation. The extremely short timeline of the expedited-removal process increases the chances that a person who is legally entitled to stay in the United States can end up being removed anyway.The government now says it will apply it across the country for many people who cannot prove they have been present in the United States for two years or more. The expansion could affect thousands of people nationwide.
During just one year of the Trump administration, 27,540 citizens were questioned by ICE — five times more than the last year of the Obama administration. The expansion of the expedited removal process will further increase the number of people questioned, creating a heightened risk that citizens will be arrested, detained and wrongfully deported.
The process has many shortcomings. First, in expedited removal proceedings, immigration officers serve as both prosecutor and judge — charging someone as deportable and making a final decision to deport him, often all within a day. These rapid deportation decisions fail to take into account many critical factors that an immigration judge would consider, including whether the individual is eligible to apply for lawful status in the United States or whether he has citizen family members.
Second, there is generally no opportunity to consult with a lawyer. Having one can make all the difference. With a lawyer, a person is 10 times more likely to prevail in an immigration case. Moreover, there is typically no judicial oversight, with relatively low-level government officers authorized to issue the deportation orders.
Despite the backlogs in the immigration court system and even though the courts often fail to live up to expectations, they can help ensure a basic level of fair process. They safeguard against unlawful removals, afford people the opportunity to obtain counsel, and provide a streamlined appeal process.
This is particularly critical today, given that many people who will be subject to expedited removal are asylum seekers. These particularly vulnerable people could face serious harm or death in their countries of origin if they’re deported.
The lack of safeguards and information in expedited removal is compounded by well-documented abuse of the process. Immigration officers applying expedited removal are obligated to inform individuals of their opportunity to seek asylum and refer a person who expresses a fear of returning to their home country for a “credible fear interview.” Unfortunately, multiple investigations have revealed that officers at the border sometimes fail to fulfill these obligations.
One hallmark of the American justice system is a fair day in court before an impartial decision maker. This is the ultimate distortion of that system. Rather than strengthening the immigration court system, the administration is planning to bypass it entirely, and the human costs will be great.
Beth Werlin is the executive director of the American Immigration Council.
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