Undocumented Migrants Face Fast Removals in Renewed Trump Push

  • ICE agents’ online training to pave way to speed departures
  • Critics fear lack of safeguards for constitutional rights

Undocumented immigrants anywhere in the U.S. can be deported as quickly as a day, once Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials complete mandatory training online, the agency says.

“This is huge. It can very significantly shift how immigration law is enforced,” John Sandweg, former acting head of ICE in the Obama administration, said in an interview.

All ICE personnel were told that the agency would now carry out the new, expanded authority for expedited removals in an Oct. 2 email, which Bloomberg Government reviewed.

Expedited removal since its inception had been limited to individuals encountered within 100 hundred miles of the border and within two weeks of entering the U.S. The updated Department of Homeland Security policy will apply to immigrants anywhere in the U.S. who can’t immediately prove upon an encounter with an immigration official they have been continuously in the U.S. for at least two years or have legal standing.

The expanded policy faced legal challenges since it was first announced in July 2019.

On Sept. 30, 2020, a circuit court removed “the remaining legal obstacle to ICE’s use of this important statutory tool,” Tony Pham, the senior official performing the duties of the ICE director, told agency employees in the email Oct. 2.

Pham that day signed updated guidance on how ICE will apply the July 2019 policy, he wrote. ICE agents, deportation officers and relevant ICE attorneys have two weeks, until Oct. 16, to complete the new online training; once they complete the course, they can begin using the new enforcement tool, Pham wrote.

Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images
Agents working for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prepare to board detainees onto a Swift Air charter flight at McCormick Air Center on Feb. 18, 2020 in Yakima, Wash.

“ICE, who has really never had any internal immigration use of expedited removal ever since it was passed in 1996, has now been handed the equivalent of a loaded gun and now being told to use it responsibly,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy analyst with the American Immigration Council, a non-partisan immigration advocacy group. “There are a lot of serious concerns over whether an agency like ICE, who has never had this authority before, can be trusted to establish appropriate safeguards.”

ICE didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Training

ICE created the online training in the Department of Homeland Security’s Performance and Learning Management System in 2019 when the agency issued guidance on how to carry out then-Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan’s expedited removal policy.

“While ICE worked diligently to prepare itself to use this important immigration enforcement tool provided by Congress, the July 23, 2019 expedited removal designation was swiftly enjoined by a federal district court,” Pham wrote. The agency has since updated the training course, he wrote.

Sandweg and a former senior DHS official both described the DHS system as an online training database that employees can call up from home. Most courses last about one to two hours and include a test that to measure whether an employee understands the subject matter, the former DHS official said.

Sandweg and Reichlin-Melnick questioned the wisdom of online training for such expansive new authority.

“I have deep concerns that kind of training is appropriate for something this significant, when it impacts suspending constitutional rights,” Sandweg said.

Wrongfully Removed

“The adequacy of the training is going to be a real issue. We don’t know what that training is going to require, we don’t know what internal restrictions ICE is going to put on the process,” Reichlin-Melnick said. “Concerns that individuals could be wrongfully ordered deported through expedited removal remain high.”

Expedited removal leaves little opportunity for an immigrant to challenge it before being put on a plane to the country of origin.

“It’s virtually impossible,” Sandweg said.

“It’s really, really, really, really easy to be removing individuals who are not legally eligible to be removed via expedited removal and, quite frankly, might have really valid claims, or defenses to removal,” he said.

ICE could deport thousands under this rule, Sandweg estimated.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com

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