Trump Administration Considering Plan to Expand and Expedite DHS Deportation Powers

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Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Border Patrol speaking with a woman in Texas. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Trump administration is reportedly considering a significant expansion of the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to expedite the deportation of undocumented immigrants. According to the Washington Post, the potential new guidelines would allow the DHS to bypass the immigration courts and deport undocumented immigrants found anywhere in the country who cannot prove they have been in the U.S. for more than 90 continuous days. The current policy only allows the DHS to bypass the courts when an undocumented immigrant is found within 100 miles of the U.S. border and has been in the country for less than two weeks. The policy change, which is still being debated within the administration, would not require congressional approval.

The 13-page memo outlining the new policy frames the change as necessary to alleviate “historic backlogs” in the country’s immigration courts, as well as to discourage newly arrived undocumented immigrants from trying to travel deeper into the country to get around the current policy. The new plan is also, of course, consistent with the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to speed up and expand aggressively the government’s capacity to target, locate, and remove undocumented immigrants. Already, the administration has overseen a large increase in the arrest of immigrants, including those without criminal records whom the DHS is newly targeting under Trump. Some 780,000 beneficiaries of the Obama administration’s DACA policy, which sought to protect immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally when they were children, may soon be at risk of being deported as well. It was also reported this week that the White House may even be looking to scale back legal immigration, too.

An administration official told the Post that, as with much of what the White House has already done or has suggested doing with regards to immigration policy, they think the new deportation guidelines would help deter immigrants from trying to enter the U.S. or overstaying their visas in the first place. Indeed, there is already evidence that fears over stricter immigration enforcement have led to a significant drop in the number of immigrants entering the U.S. via the southern border, though the new DHS memo misleadingly cites older statistics to exaggerate the threat.

Not surprisingly, the new memo is already resurrecting concerns about the nationwide deportation force that President Trump repeatedly promised on the campaign trail. Immigrants-rights advocates also say the change would strip away due process rights and target people seeking asylum or another form of legal status. Along those lines, the deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants Rights Project, Lee Gelerent, is calling the new policy proposal “a recipe for disaster” for immigrants.

DHS officials, however, note that the revised policy would be consistent with a 1996 law, which authorized expedited deportations for immigrants found anywhere in the country who have been residents for less than two years — though that power was typically still only used near the border. The current 100-mile, two-week policy was later put in place by the George W. Bush administration in 2004, and then maintained by the Obama administration. The DHS memo also says that immigrants detained under the new policy would still be allowed access to an asylum officer if they wish to claim a credible fear of persecution or torture, but critics claim that right already isn’t always granted.

White House May Expand and Expedite DHS Deportation Powers