190723 us immigration
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detain a man during an operation in Escondido, Calif. Image Credit: AP

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration said Monday that it would speed the deportations of unauthorised immigrants who cannot prove they have been in the United States for more than two years, allowing federal agents to arrest and deport more people without a hearing before a judge.

Critics warned that the new rule, set to take effect Tuesday, could also prevent asylum seekers from applying for refuge in the United States before they are deported. Within hours of its announcement, the American Civil Liberties Union vowed to block it in court.

The shift will expand the use of an immigration law that, until now, was used only to fast-track deportations for migrants who had been in the United States for just a few weeks and were still within 100 miles of the southwestern border. The change was announced a week after Trump administration officials said they would severely restrict asylum at the border. Now, those stopped by federal agents anywhere in the country who cannot prove they have been in the United States for more than two years can be deported without the opportunity to be heard from by a judge.

Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, said the rule would “help to alleviate some of the burden and capacity issues,” including room at detention facilities for immigrants.

The rule will ensure that deportations could be carried out over “weeks — not months or years,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, the director of immigration and cross-border policy at the Bipartisan Policy Centre. Omar Jadwat of the ACLU said it would deport immigrants who lived in the United States for years “with less due process than people get in traffic court.”

In the 2018 fiscal year, migrants who were deported by the Department of Homeland Security under the expedited process were held for an average of 11 days. It usually takes an average of 51 days to remove migrants from the United States, officials have said.

Taken together, the Trump administration’s recent spate of restrictive immigration policies could bar significant numbers of people from seeking asylum in the United States.

Last week, the administration announced that it would deny protections to immigrants who failed to apply for asylum in at least one country they passed through on their way north. The shift prevents nearly all Central Americans who are seeking asylum from entering the United States, and was challenged in court by a coalition of immigrant advocates the day after it was announced.

“It’s a pile-on,” said Royce Murray, a managing director of the American Immigration Council, a non-profit advocacy organisation that also planned to challenge the program’s expansion in court.

The administration, she said, was “definitely throwing everything they have at asylum seekers in an effort to turn everyone humanly possible away and to deport as many people as possible.”

“There’s no other conclusion to draw,” Murray added.

The former rules for fast-tracking deportations, as enacted in 1996, made clear that the program could be expanded if faced with a surge of illegal immigration.

Brown, who worked at the department from 2005 to 2011, said officials then were concerned about how someone stopped by immigration agents could prove they had been in the United States for more than two years.

Immigrant-rights advocates, who had been preparing for the announcement since early in President Donald Trump’s term, shared those concerns Monday.

“This is a national ‘show me your papers’ law,” Murray said, referring to a now-infamous Arizona immigration statute that required the police to question the legal status of anyone who was suspected of being in the United States illegally.

“The burden is on the individual to prove that expedited removal does not apply to them,” she said. “So if you don’t have the necessary paperwork on you — to show that you have a lease, or that you have status — then you could be taken into custody to try to fight this. And the problem is that this is a fast tracked process.”

Immigrants who are eligible for asylum and placed into expedited removal proceedings will still be entitled to an interview with an asylum officer if they claim a fear of returning to their country.

Given the administration’s attempt to restrict asylum, Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration at Cornell Law School, said that some immigrants could be removed in violation of their due process rights.

“Some US citizens may also be erroneously expeditiously removed because they can’t prove their citizenship to the satisfaction of an immigration agent,” Yale-Loehr said. “This notice is the latest attack in the Trump administration’s war on immigrants.”