EL PASO, Texas — Immigration advocates expressed dismay at Monday’s announcement by the Department of Homeland Security to expedite the deportation of undocumented immigrants who’ve been in the country for less than two years.
DHS said the policy, which currently applies to migrants caught within 100 miles of the international border within two weeks of unlawful entry, will be enforced nationwide and raise the cap to two years effective Tuesday.
“The effect of the change will be to enhance national security and public safety, while reducing public costs, by facilitating prompt immigration determinations,” DHS said in a public notice Monday. The new designation will enable DHS to address more effectively and efficiently the large volume of aliens who are present in the United States unlawfully … and ensure the prompt removal of those not entitled to enter, remain or be provided relief or protection from removal.”
But immigration advocates immediately outlined concerns with the new policy, ranging from the curtailment of due process to possible profiling.
“People have the right to legal counsel to adequately defend themselves, and they have the right to have their case heard by a judge. If people are going to be deprived of that process, then it’s a violation of their rights because constitutional rights apply to everyone who is here,” said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso.
Other organizations wonder how many migrants carry proof of their length of stay in ordinary, everyday situations.
“The authority outlined in this policy basically gives officers anywhere in the United States the authority to detain and deport people whom they believed entered unlawfully less than two years ago. The burden of proof for at least two years is now on the immigrant,” added Kathryn E. Shepherd, national advocacy counsel with the Immigration Justice Campaign at the American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C.
Shepherd said advocates are concerned that federal immigration officers will make mistakes and possibly racially profile individuals.
“This policy is exponentially expanding the ability of DHS to detain and deport thousands of people, possibly back to harm,” she added. “This is a fairly monumental policy. We are concerned about the chilling effect it will have on immigrant communities. We are concerned this policy will turn this country into a ‘show me your papers’ state.”
El Paso immigration lawyer Carlos Spector said the two-week expedited deportation rule has been in the books since the mid-1990s, but has seldom been implemented on a large scale.
“It was a little more flexible under Obama, even though they were deporting a lot of people under this process, and 14 days are easier to prove: you can show them your paycheck, your driver’s license or your kid’s report card,” Spector said. “Also, the agents were being more reasonable. … but now you have a more aggressive enforcement along with a more xenophobic culture.”
Both Garcia and Spector said they believe president Trump’s political objectives are behind the hardening of the policy.
“This is an electoral move. … Before it was the wall, now it’s deportations. Trump wants to satisfy his base, particularly those who are most xenophobic and racist,” Garcia said.
Spector opined that hardline immigration policies reflect Trump’s desire to appeal to voters for his reelection in the short term, and in the long term seek to cut off potential Democratic voters, as many U.S. born children of immigrants tend to be.