The hu­man cost of fast-track de­por­ta­tion

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY BETH WERLIN Beth Werlin is the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Coun­cil.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's ex­pan­sion of the use of fast-track de­por­ta­tions through “ex­pe­dited re­moval” will cre­ate a “show me your pa­pers” regime na­tion­wide in which peo­ple – in­clud­ing cit­i­zens – may be forced to quickly prove they should not be de­ported. This pol­icy al­lows Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment to quickly de­port some­one with­out go­ing be­fore an im­mi­gra­tion judge, un­der­min­ing Amer­i­can prin­ci­ples of fun­da­men­tal fair­ness and putting United States cit­i­zens, per­ma­nent res­i­dents and asy­lum-seek­ers at risk of wrong­ful de­por­ta­tion.

For 15 years, the gov­ern­ment has been ap­ply­ing ex­pe­dited re­moval in a limited way to those within 100 miles of the Cana­dian or Mex­i­can bor­der who have been in the United States for less than two weeks. The en­tire process con­sists of an in­ter­view with an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cer dur­ing which the bur­den is on the in­di­vid­ual to prove a le­gal right to re­main in the United States. One could be ques­tioned, de­tained and de­ported very swiftly with lit­tle time to con­sult a lawyer or to gather ev­i­dence to pre­vent de­por­ta­tion. The ex­tremely short time­line of the ex­pe­dited-re­moval process in­creases the chances that a per­son who is legally en­ti­tled to stay in the United States can end up be­ing re­moved any­way. The gov­ern­ment now says it will ap­ply it across the coun­try for many peo­ple who can­not prove they have been present in the United States for two years or more. The ex­pan­sion could af­fect thou­sands of peo­ple na­tion­wide.

Dur­ing just one year of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, 27,540 cit­i­zens were ques­tioned by ICE – five times more than the last year of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. The ex­pan­sion of the ex­pe­dited re­moval process will fur­ther in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple ques­tioned, cre­at­ing a height­ened risk that cit­i­zens will be ar­rested, de­tained and wrong­fully de­ported.

The process has many short­com­ings. First, in ex­pe­dited re­moval pro­ceed­ings, im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers serve as both prose­cu­tor and judge – charg­ing some­one as de­portable and mak­ing a fi­nal de­ci­sion to de­port him, of­ten all within a day. These rapid de­por­ta­tion de­ci­sions fail to take into ac­count many crit­i­cal fac­tors that an im­mi­gra­tion judge would con­sider, in­clud­ing whether the in­di­vid­ual is el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for law­ful sta­tus in the United States or whether he has cit­i­zen fam­ily mem­bers.

Sec­ond, there is generally no op­por­tu­nity to con­sult with a lawyer. Hav­ing one can make all the dif­fer­ence. With a lawyer, a per­son is 10 times more likely to pre­vail in an im­mi­gra­tion case. More­over, there is typ­i­cally no ju­di­cial over­sight, with rel­a­tively low-level gov­ern­ment of­fi­cers au­tho­rized to is­sue the de­por­ta­tion or­ders.

De­spite the back­logs in the im­mi­gra­tion court sys­tem and even though the courts of­ten fail to live up to ex­pec­ta­tions, they can help en­sure a ba­sic level of fair process. They safe­guard against un­law­ful re­movals, af­ford peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to ob­tain coun­sel, and pro­vide a stream­lined ap­peal process.

One hall­mark of the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem is a fair day in court be­fore an im­par­tial de­ci­sion maker. This is the ul­ti­mate dis­tor­tion of that sys­tem.

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