Effective today, the Department of Homeland Security has a new policy that could speed up deportations all over the US. The Trump administration announced on Monday new rules that allow immigration officers to deport undocumented immigrants without a court hearing if they are unable to demonstrate they’ve been in the country, continuously, for at least two years. Legal experts have said that this was a dramatic expansion of a program already used along the US-Mexican border that cuts out review by an immigration judge, usually without access to an attorney. Both are available in regular proceedings.
Marco Werman spoek to César García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver, who explained the policies that these new rules were expanded from and what these changes could mean for immigrants in the US.
César García Hernández: Until now, this policy had made it possible for the federal government to deport people who were apprehended at or near 100 miles of the border and who couldn't convince an immigration officer that they'd been in the United States for more than 14 days. This new policy promises to expand that to the entire country and to folks who can't convince an immigration officer that they've been in the United States for at least two years. It's a rather radical transformation of a policy that has been on the books for quite some time but has never applied in anything reaching these proportions.
Marco Werman: What do you think could be the practical implications of a policy like this? Does this mean that people now have to carry their documents with them at all times?
Yeah, it certainly means that if you're concerned about being apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, you would be wise to carry proof of your residence in the United States for at least the last two years. The leases and medical records, whatever it is that you can get, from bills to utilities and anything that you can show that you've been living in the States for at least two years, so that you can escape this quick procedure. To be clear, it doesn't mean that you're going to be immune from immigration law enforcement; it only means that you will be able to get your day in front of an immigration judge where then you can determine whether you're going to hire a lawyer who's going to help you figure out whether there's some legal basis for you to remain in the country. But that time is quite essential and its that time, the hearing before an immigration judge, that the expedited removal procedure eliminates from the scheme that many folks will likely face if this new policy goes into effect today.
Given the haste that this new policy suggests for deportation, are you expecting actual legal residents, people who are documented, to get caught up in this and get deported?
There's almost no question that lawful permanent residents or people who we refer to as green card holders are going to be mistaken for not having the authority to be in the United States. There's very little doubt in my mind that United States citizens will, too. Lots of folks who are US citizens do not know that they are US citizens. That's a technical legal determination that, for many folks, is actually quite murky. I think this policy, if it's expanded to the entire country, is going to catch many more US citizens than has been the case up until now.
You're based in Denver but you grew up in a border town in Texas and had a law practice in McAllen, where fast-track deportations for unauthorized immigrants were happening already because of this 100-mile rule. What's been the impact there and what could that mean for expansion to places like where you are now based, in Denver?
Yeah, I think that what we're seeing today is that the new normal for the United States is what has been the old normal for communities along the southwestern border for quite some time now. This implementation and the attention that comes with it is perhaps welcome because there is this fear that immigration officers, with its border patrol agents or Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, might suddenly show up and apprehend somebody and pluck them out of their community and throw them into deportation proceedings and get deported before anyone knows what's going on has been a very real fear of immigrant communities along the border since going back to 2004. There is a perverse quality to this expansion that was announced this week that maybe this will get the attention of folks in other parts of the country who have some more resources to try to challenge this kind of overreach.
President Trump announced this new fast-track removal policy just yesterday. How was the administration able to make changes that are so unprecedented and so sweeping? What do executive orders allow for?
The Trump administration is pointing to authority granted by a law that Congress enacted back in 1996, and it's true that that law does say that it can apply to folks who have not been in the United States for at least two years and who don't have authority to be here. Now, that's never been applied in that way and so the way that the government has applied it has been to say, "Look, we're going apply it in a much more limited fashion and anytime we want to change the way we're applying it we'll issue a notice." Now, the question is, is the notice that was issued today with such a radical transformation in the reach of this policy? Is that sufficient? And I expect a legal challenge that's going to put that question front and center and so we'll see the courts become involved in this latest immigration law enforcement initiative by the Trump administration just like we've seen going back to the earliest days of the administration.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Reuters contributed to this story.