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US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers escort a man in handcuffs during an operation in Escondido, CA, on July 8, 2019. © 2019 Gregory Bull/AP Photo

(Washington, DC) – A Trump administration plan to speed up deportations by bypassing immigration courts is likely to result in serious harm to migrants and their families, Human Rights Watch said today.

The US Department of Homeland Security plans to publish an administrative rule on July 23, 2019 that would authorize officials to deport noncitizens apprehended anywhere in the United States who cannot immediately prove they have been present continuously in the country for two years or more.

“We already see serious abuses of fast-track deportation authority where it is currently used at the US border,” said Grace Meng, acting deputy US Program director at Human Rights Watch. “This change makes people living in US communities subject to an opaque deportation process with limited judicial review.”

Human Rights Watch has found that US immigration officials’ methods for interviewing migrants in expedited removal procedures are seriously flawed, leading to the rapid return to other countries of people who face harm, contrary to US law and international standards. The new rule could expose thousands more people living in the US to these same flawed procedures, likely separating families through deportation.

US law allows for “expedited removal,” or fast-track deportations, of people who do not indicate an intention to apply for asylum. Currently, regulations authorize this procedure only for people apprehended within 100 miles of the border or at a port of entry who cannot prove they have been in the US for more than 14 days. The new rule would expand this to people arrested anywhere in the US who cannot prove two years of residence.

Once an individual is placed in the expedited removal process, immigration officers have nearly complete discretion to sign and carry out deportation orders with very limited review. The only way a noncitizen subject to removal can make their case in an immigration court is if an immigration officer recognizes them as an asylum seeker.

The US Congress attempted to limit judicial review of decisions made in the context of expedited removal. However, in March, an appeals court in the Ninth Circuit ruled that asylum seekers are entitled under the US Constitution to a federal court review of their expedited removal orders. The new rule expanding the use of fast-track deportations is likely to be challenged.

“Expanding the fast-track procedure to apply anywhere in the US is a recipe for ripping thousands more families apart and devastating communities,” Meng said. “This is a massive and dangerous change.”

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