Trump gets path cleared for expedited removal of immigrants

Erik Larson

The Trump administration can use fast-track deportation proceedings for undocumented immigrants found anywhere in the U.S. who have been in the country for less than two years, a federal appeals court ruled in a major setback for states that backed a lawsuit seeking to block the plan.

“Expedited removals” have been available to immigration officials for two decades in cases where undocumented people were apprehended within 100 miles of the U.S. border. The government last July expanded the rule to apply nationwide, triggering a lawsuit by advocacy groups that feared a broader crackdown on immigrants.

The Trump administration can use fast-track deportation proceedings for undocumented immigrants found anywhere in the U.S. who have been in the country for less than two years, a federal appeals court ruled

While the groups quickly secured a lower-court order blocking implementation of the rule, the federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday reversed it, saying Congress gave the Department of Homeland Security “sole and unreviewable discretion” in the enforcement of removal proceedings, meaning its actions can’t be challenged in court under administrative procedure law.

The decision is a victory for President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda just days after the U.S. Supreme Court derailed his effort to lift Obama-era protections for nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who were brought to the U.S. as children.

The fight may not be over though. The groups also challenged the removal policy by arguing that immigrants aren’t given meaningful due process as required by federal immigration law and the U.S. Constitution. The appellate judges sent the case back to a lower court for further proceedings on those claims.

First Round

“This is only the first round in our fight against the Trump administration’s illegal attempt to remove hundreds of thousands of people from the U.S. without any legal recourse,” said Anand Balakrishnan, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who argued the case for the groups. “The court ruled that our suit was properly brought and we can now pursue our statutory and constitutional claims in order to once again block this cruel policy.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s press office didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment. The department argued in court filings last year that the expansion of expedited removal would be a more efficient way to remove undocumented immigrants who’ve been in the country for a shorter period rather than add to a backlog of pending cases.

California led a coalition of nearly two dozen states in support of the lawsuit with a so-called friend-of-the-court brief, citing concern for hundreds of thousands of residents who they say fled to the U.S. to escape persecution and violence.

The administration’s “significant expansion of the expedited removal process substantially increases the risk that people will be erroneously deported, while according those caught up in the proceedings virtually none of the process provided in formal immigration hearings,” the states said in the brief. “Not surprisingly, this has led to numerous documented cases of erroneous deportation, with dire consequences for the people removed.”

A spokesperson for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the ruling. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James declined to comment.

Silver Lining

There was a silver lining for the states in the appellate court’s determination that the courts do have jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the new rule. A dissent in the court said there shouldn’t be such jurisdiction, citing the separation of powers under the Constitution and the executive branch’s control over immigration policy.

Trump called for an expansion of the expedited removal process as part of an immigration executive order in January 2017, the month he took office. It’s part of a larger goal to deport millions of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., many of whom have established families and jobs in the country.

The process applies to undocumented immigrants who can’t prove they’ve been in the U.S. for at least two years, so people may need to have documentation on hand or risk being separated from their families.