The Trump administration is moving to significantly expand the number of undocumented immigrants who can be deported swiftly without a hearing in immigration court.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who remove people from the country, announced on Monday that it will now apply the practice of expedited removal — a fast-tracked deportation process — to undocumented immigrants across the country who fail to demonstrate they've been residing in the U.S. continuously for two years or more.
The change represents a dramatic shift in the way expedited removals have been applied in the past. Previously, immigrants who fell into two categories were subject to expedited deportation: border-crossing migrants who authorities encountered within 100 miles of either border who had been in the U.S. for less than two weeks, and undocumented immigrants anywhere in country who came by sea and lived in the U.S. for less than two years.
To defend the shift, DHS said in its notice in the Federal Register — the U.S. government's official journal — that the new plan will ease the burden on the nation's backlogged immigration courts by allowing ICE to deport unauthorized immigrants without placing them in "timeconsuming removal proceedings."
The proposal quickly drew withering criticism from pro-immigrants groups and legal advocates, who say the policy will deny due process to immigrants with established ties to communities in the U.S.
Omar Jadwat, who leads the Immigrants' Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), vowed to challenge the policy in court.
"Under this unlawful plan, immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court," Jadwat added. "We will sue to end this policy quickly."
Along with the argument that the new plan denies immigrants sufficient due process, Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute's New York office, said the legal challenge to the policy will most likely also rest on the fact that many immigrants who are apprehended will face "significant hardship" in proving to an ICE agent that they've lived in the U.S. for more than two years.
"When you're apprehended on the street or at a factory, it's obviously not easy to establish with evidence that you've been here for more than two years because you're not carrying all your documents with you," Chishti told CBS News.
Based on an analysis of census figures, Chishti's group estimates that nearly 300,000 undocumented immigrants could be subject to the new policy.
In the notice, DHS noted that although agents have "broad discretion" to apply expedited removals, the agency said officers may determine to whether employ the practice on immigrants who have serious medical conditions or "substantial connections" to U.S.
BuzzFeed News was first in reporting that the administration was considering making the change last month.