- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has expanded the process known as “expedited removal” to cover illegal alien families apprehended in areas along the nation’s borders.

The Department of Homeland Security opened a 500-bed facility in Williamson County, Texas, this week to house the families and meet their needs.

“By expanding expedited removal to cover illegal alien families, DHS is closing down a loophole that has been exploited by human smugglers and helping stop future illegal immigration,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “This new facility enables us to have deterrence with dignity by allowing families to remain together, while sending the clear message that families entering the United States illegally will be returned home.”

The expedited-removal program gives Homeland Security the authority to return applicable illegal aliens to their country of origin as soon as circumstances will allow. The authority was established by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and applied initially at the nation’s ports of entry.

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

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. In cases where families were detained, the families, including children, were detained separately.

Under the new policy, Mrs. Myers said, illegal alien families caught at the border are subject to the expedited-removal program. 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.”

Illegal alien family units who have spent no more than 14 days in the United States, are apprehended within 100 miles of the Mexico or Canada border or arrive by sea and are apprehended within 100 miles of a coastal border area are subject to the new policy.

Mrs. Myers said expedited removal disrupts human-smuggling cycles that occur along the border by substantially reducing the time from arrest to removal and by reducing opportunities for illegal aliens to reconnect with their smugglers and guides.

Assuming that officials can process families as efficiently as they do single adults, she said, the department indicated that ICE could remove 1,000 illegal aliens a month through the Williamson County facility.

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