Trump Administration Expands Fast-Tracked Deportations Beyond Borders
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
The Trump administration is greatly expanding the power of immigration officials to deport unauthorized immigrants and to do it quickly. This week, the administration expanded what's known as expedited removal from a limited area along the country's borders to the entire country. And as NPR's Joel Rose reports, immigrant advocates are alarmed at the prospect of more wrongful detentions and deportations.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Expedited removal has been on the books for decades. Until now, it's only been applied to a 100-mile zone along the borders. That's where a man named Elvin was questioned and detained by immigration officials in December. Elvin says he was on his way back to Houston, where he lived, when he was pulled off a bus by Border Patrol agents who asked if he'd ever been deported.
ELVIN: (Through interpreter) I had never been deported. I've lived in this country since 2007.
ROSE: Elvin asked that we not use his last name because he's still in immigration proceedings. He told Houston Public Media that immigration officers had him confused with another undocumented immigrant from Honduras with the same name. But they put him in expedited removal anyway, even though it was only supposed to apply to migrants who've been in the country for less than two weeks. Elvin spent months in immigration detention while his wife, who was pregnant with their third child, scrambled to find a lawyer.
ELVIN: (Through interpreter) I cried day and night. What am I going to do now? They're going to send me to my country. My kids are going to stay here. Who's going to help them?
ROSE: Eventually, Elvin's wife found a team of nonprofit lawyers who convinced a federal judge to cancel his deportation. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment. Immigration lawyers say Elvin's case is unusual but not unique. Mistakes and abuse do happen, they say. And once immigrants are placed in expedited removal, they can be deported in a matter of days without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom, which is why advocates are alarmed that the Trump administration is expanding these fast-track deportations to the rest of the country.
KATIE SHEPHERD: This is pretty frightening. I think this is a - one of the biggest, most aggressive assaults, not just on immigrant rights, but on civil rights as well.
ROSE: Katie Shepherd is with the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group in Washington. Under this expansion, Shepherd says immigration officials could ask anyone to prove they've lived in the U.S. for more than two years, to show me your papers essentially. She says that could put asylum-seekers, green card holders and even U.S. citizens at risk of deportation.
SHEPHERD: This could be carte blanche to racially profile people of color in the United States who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that's exactly what we could see happen.
MATTHEW ALBENCE: We don't racially profile, OK? We conduct targeted enforcement actions. We know who we're going after before we arrest them.
ROSE: That's Matthew Albence, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, speaking on a call with reporters this week. Albence says expedited removal only applies to immigrants who are in the country illegally, mostly people who've already been charged with crimes.
ALBENCE: The individuals that would be subject to this expedited removal are the same individuals that are subject to enforcement action today or were subject to enforcement action yesterday.
ROSE: It's not just undocumented immigrants and their lawyers who are worried about this change. Sarah Saldana is the former acting director of ICE under President Obama and a former federal prosecutor. She says it's one thing for the current head of ICE to say he's only targeting criminals but...
SARAH SALDANA: That's not what the president has said - that we're only going to use this authority for serious threats to public safety. It's anybody we encounter.
ROSE: Expedited removal makes sense near the border, Saldana says, where authorities are more likely to encounter migrants who've just crossed into the U.S., not so in the middle of the country.
SALDAN: You are more likely to find longer established people in their communities, making contributions, going about their business, working, perhaps having children who are American citizens. That's going to be a real problem.
ROSE: Immigrant advocates have already said they plan to challenge the expansion of expedited removal in court. Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.