Homeland Security announced a stiffer approach toward some illegal immigrant families Monday, saying they will be put in speedy deportation proceedings as the government tries to figure out ways of stemming the migrant surge.
In a brief statement the department said “certain families” who jump the border but can’t be expelled under the emergency coronavirus border shutdown will now be put into what’s known as expedited removal.
“Attempting to cross into the United States between ports of entry, or circumventing inspection at ports of entry, is the wrong way to come to the United States,” the department said in an unsigned statement. “These acts are dangerous and can carry long-term immigration consequences for individuals who attempt to do so.”
The move comes as Border Patrol agents describe a catastrophe on the U.S.-Mexico boundary. In the Rio Grande Valley, agents are seeing a surge of mini-caravans involving hundreds of migrants — a repeat of the 2019 migrant surge.
In the El Paso area, agents said they are seeing a “historic pace” of illegal activity, and most of those jumping the border are not asylum-seekers but rank-and-file illegal immigrants.
Homeland Security’s move came a day before Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is slated to appear before a key Senate committee, where he will face pointed questions about the worsening situation at the border.
By most yardsticks, the border is worse now than it was in March, when President Biden said it was undergoing a seasonal blip that would soon subside. Since then, illegal crossings are up, deaths are growing, COVID cases are increasing, and the number of people being caught-and-released into the interior is quickly rising.
The decision to expand expedited removal angered immigrant-rights activists, who took to Twitter to denounce the move.
“This is an appalling announcement,” wrote Omar C. Jadwat, head of the immigrant-rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “Increasing the use of expedited removal — particularly for families — is the opposite of what the government should be doing.”
Expanding use of expedited removal could be a signal that the Biden administration is about to end the pandemic border shutdown, known as Title 42 because of the section of U.S. law that governs the procedure.
Under Title 42, triggered in March 2020 by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden team, illegal border crossers can be immediately expelled in order to limit COVID exposure.
But immigrant-rights groups have demanded Title 42 powers be discontinued, arguing some people who deserve protections in the U.S. are being blocked alongside the broader group of illegal immigrants who don’t have valid claims of protection.
Expedited removal gives the Biden team another option, albeit less certain, to derail illegal immigration.
Under expedited removal, rank-and-file illegal immigrants can be deported on the say-so of immigration officers, without the chance for a lengthy battle in the immigration courts.
Immigrant-rights activists call expedited removal “inhumane.”
The Biden administration says it’s sympathetic to the activists’ concerns, but the border surge has left Homeland Security trapped between its inclinations for leniency and the reality that this leniency is enticing more people to make the dangerous journey on the belief — often correct — that they’ll be caught-and-released into the U.S. with the chance to disappear into the shadows.