- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

The first group of 10 family units was deported from the United States under an expanded “expedited removal” program targeting illegal alien families apprehended in areas along the nation’s borders, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents said yesterday.

ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda said 120 persons were deported to Honduras aboard a U.S. government airplane, leaving from San Antonio International Airport on Thursday morning and arriving in Honduras that afternoon. She said the agency worked closely with the Honduran consul and other Honduran government officials to organize the return.

Under new Department of Homeland Security policy, family units are now subject to “expedited removal,” a process that gives the department the authority to return the illegal aliens to their country of origin as soon as circumstances will allow. The department opened a 500-bed facility in Williamson County, Texas, to house the families.

Homeland Security implemented the program in September between the ports of entry at all nine U.S. Customs and Border Protection Border Patrol sectors on the Southwest border. In January, the department expanded it along the U.S.-Canada border and all U.S. coastal areas.

The removal program permits non-Mexican aliens caught within 100 miles of the border who have spent less than 14 days in the United States to be deported without an immigration hearing.

Because of limited bed space, families caught at the border often were released with “notices to appear” at an immigration hearing. Alien smugglers, aware of the practice, often exploited the loophole to create the image of a family unit by encouraging children to be brought on these dangerous journeys to the United States. In cases where families were detained, the families, including children, were detained separately.

Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE, has said the new policy is part of Homeland Security’s “secure border initiative,” which among other things is designed to eliminate the practice of “catch and release.”

Mrs. Myers said expedited removal disrupts alien-smuggling cycles along the border by reducing the time from arrest to removal and by reducing opportunities for illegals to reconnect with their smugglers.

Ms. Pruneda said the program has allowed ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to reduce the total percentage of non-Mexican illegal aliens released by more than a third. She said the average length of stay in ICE detention before removal for aliens under expedited removal is 21 days, down 90 days spent in the traditional removal process.

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