The Biden administration on Monday said it will seek to rapidly deport migrant families traveling with children who cross the southern border without legal permission.
Migrant families who are not expelled to Mexico under current pandemic-related restrictions will be placed in "expedited removal" proceedings, which allow border authorities to carry out deportations without court hearings, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced.
Through expedited removal, U.S. border officials can circumvent the backlog-ridden immigration courts and summarily deport migrants to their home countries without affording them the same safeguards available during proceedings before an immigration judge.
If migrants placed in the fast-tracked proceedings express fear of being harmed in their native countries, they are supposed to be interviewed by U.S. asylum officers. If they pass those interviews, migrants are allowed to present a full case for asylum in immigration court.
The expedited deportations, created by a Clinton-era law, have been used by Republican and Democratic administrations as a way to deter unauthorized border crossings.
"Attempting to cross into the United States between ports of entry, or circumventing inspection at ports of entry, is the wrong way to come to the United States," DHS said in its announcement. "These acts are dangerous and can carry long-term immigration consequences for individuals who attempt to do so."
Historically, expedited removal has been criticized by civil society and advocates, who argue the practice bars asylum-seekers from consulting with lawyers in the U.S. and leads to the swift return of people who could face danger in their home countries.
"The expedited removal system routinely leads to errors and it is not a system that should not be used when people's lives are at stake," Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, told CBS News. "We are extremely disappointed that the Biden administration is considering placing vulnerable asylum-seeking families in a system that lacks basic due process protections."
Representatives for DHS did not say what, if any, policy changes the Biden administration will make to the expedited removal process to ensure families are afforded due process.
During his second week in office, President Biden tasked his administration with creating an "efficient and orderly" expedited removal policy "that facilitates timely adjudications and adherence to standards of fairness and due process."
It is unclear if the Biden administration will seek to detain families while asylum officers determine whether they should be allowed to request U.S. protection. To date, it has been releasing most migrant families with notices to appear in immigration court and discontinued long-term family detention, using hotels to briefly hold parents and children.
The three family detention centers that were in operation during the Trump administration have been converted into rapid processing centers or adult-only facilities. The family holding center in Karnes City, Texas, is currently transitioning into "a low-level adult female detention facility," according to a government report filed in federal court last week.
Monday's announcement comes as the number of migrant families entering U.S. border custody has been increasing. In June, U.S. agents along the southern border encountered nearly 56,000 parents and children traveling as families — a 25% jump from May.
Most of the families who entered U.S. custody in June hailed from Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador and Mexico, according to Customs and Border Protection data.
The Biden administration has continued to use a public health authority known as Title 42, which was invoked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in March 2020, to quickly expel border-crossers to Mexico or their home countries.
The administration has declined to use Title 42 to expel unaccompanied children, who have been transferred to shelters overseen by the U.S. refugee agency. But it has said that adults and families will be expelled without a court hearing or an asylum screening.
However, U.S. border officials have been expelling a smaller percentage of migrant families for the past few months, allowing the majority to continue their asylum cases inside the country. In June, 8,070 parents and children taken into custody as families — or 14% of overall family apprehensions — were expelled under Title 42.
U.S. officials have said the expulsions of families are hindered by Mexico's refusal to accept non-Central American families and those with young children; travel requirements that delay deportation flights; humanitarian exceptions for vulnerable families; and a CDC rule barring the expulsion of people who must test negative for COVID-19 before being repatriated.
"Approximately 80 percent of the non-citizen family units currently being encountered along the southwest border cannot be immediately expelled to either Mexico or their home country for these reasons," David Shahoulian, assistant DHS secretary for border and immigration policy, conceded in a court declaration earlier this month.
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