The Trump administration is weighing a new policy to dramatically expand the Department of Homeland Security's powers to expedite the deportations of some illegal immigrants.
Since 2004, the agency has been authorized to bypass immigration courts only for immigrants who had been living in the country illegally for less than two weeks and were apprehended within 100 miles of the border.
Under the proposal, the agency would be empowered to seek the expedited removal of illegal immigrants apprehended anywhere in the United States who cannot prove they have lived in the country continuously for more than 90 days, according to a 13-page internal agency memo obtained by The Washington Post.
The new guidelines, if enacted, would represent a major expansion of the agency's authority to speed up deportations under President Donald Trump, who has made border security a top priority.
Two administration officials confirmed that the proposed new policy, which would not require congressional approval, is under review. The memo was circulated at the White House in May, and DHS is reviewing comments on the document from the Office of Management and Budget, according to one administration official familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Joanne Talbot, a DHS spokeswoman, said she had not seen the memo. She described it as a draft and emphasized that no final decisions have been made by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
"The potential changes would allow DHS to more efficiently use resources to remove persons who have been illegally present for relatively brief periods of time while still observing due-process requirements," Talbot said.
Immigrant rights advocates denounced the proposed expansion of the expedited deportation authority, warning that the policy would strip more immigrants of due-process rights to seek asylum or other legal protections that would allow them to remain in the country.
"This is a radical departure from current policy and practice, which takes one giant step towards implementing Trump's deportation force across the nation," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
DHS officials disputed such characterizations, saying that the new policy would simply allow the agency to take advantage of its discretion that has been permitted under federal law for more than two decades.
In 1996, Congress authorized the use of expedited deportations for illegal immigrants apprehended anywhere in the country who could not prove they had been physically present in the country two years before their apprehension. The powers were used almost exclusively at the border, however, and in 2004 the George W. Bush administration issued guidelines stipulating that the expedited removals could be used for those apprehended within 100 miles of the border who had lived in the country fewer than 14 days.
The use of expedited removals rose substantially in the decade after the administration implemented its guidelines, spiking from about 50,000 immigrants in 2004 to 193,000 in 2013 - about 44 percent of the total number of people deported that year, according to the American Immigration Council.
- Input: IANS