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Explainer: Fast-track Deportation at US-Mexico Border


FILE - A pair of migrant families pass through a gap in the border wall to reach the United States after crossing from Mexico to Yuma, Ariz., to seek asylum, June 10, 2021.

Amid continuing chaos along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Biden administration has opted to retain a controversial policy that allows rapid expulsion of migrants from the U.S. The policy, first implemented by the former Trump administration, stems from a public health mandate imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Migrants are fast-tracked for removal if U.S. immigration officers conclude they do not have a valid asylum claim, a determination made without migrants appearing before an immigration judge. Unaccompanied children who cross the border into the United States are exempted from the policy.

The resumption of expedited removals comes as U.S. authorities report a 20-year high in border apprehensions in recent months. White House officials argue that these eye-popping totals are inflated because many migrants are repeatedly attempting to enter the country, accounting for multiple encounters with Border Patrol agents.

What is expedited removal?

It is a process that empowers immigration officers to deport certain noncitizens quickly and efficiently without a hearing before a U.S. immigration judge.

Who can be placed under expedited removal?

Expedited removal can apply to migrants being processed at a port of entry who have entered the United States unlawfully, cannot prove they have been in the country for at least two years and do not qualify for humanitarian relief. The guideline can also apply to immigrants who have committed fraud.

The procedure has been widely used by both the Trump and the Biden administrations during the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration has retained Title 42, a Trump-era order that mandated swift expulsions of undocumented people as a public health necessity. Immigrant advocacy groups are suing to halt the policy.

FILE - A Texas Department of Public Safety officer directs a group of migrants who crossed the border and turned themselves in, in Del Rio, Texas, June 16, 2021.
FILE - A Texas Department of Public Safety officer directs a group of migrants who crossed the border and turned themselves in, in Del Rio, Texas, June 16, 2021.

Is this a new process?

No. Congress passed a law on expedited removals in 1996, and by 2004, the federal government had significantly increased its use. For the past 17 years, immigration officers have used expedited removal to deport immigrants at both the U.S.-Canada and the U.S.-Mexico borders. It can also apply to those apprehended on U.S. soil within 160 kilometers of the border and who crossed no more than two weeks prior to apprehension.

"Expedited removal provides a lawful, more accelerated procedure to remove those family units who do not have a basis under U.S. law to be in the United States," the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote in a recent statement. "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."

Can they lawfully return?

According to U.S. immigration law, the expedited removal order blocks a person's reentry to the U.S. for five years, and if an immigrant tries to enter the country illegally after receiving an expedited removal order, the person can be banned for at least 10 years or, in some cases, permanently.

What is the difference between expedited removal and the deportation process?

The expedited removal proceeding is a form of deportation, but it is enacted under a different statute than deportation. The quick removal of a migrant allows the immigration agent to decide and conduct a removal in hours if the agent chooses to do so.

In a deportation process, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement formally accuses a noncitizen of being removable. When a person is placed in deportation proceedings, he or she has the right to legal representation and to present a case in front of an immigration judge, who will decide whether to give a departure order.

FILE - Asylum-seeking migrant families from Guatemala and Honduras arrive at the U.S. side of the bank on an inflatable raft after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas, July 28, 2021.
FILE - Asylum-seeking migrant families from Guatemala and Honduras arrive at the U.S. side of the bank on an inflatable raft after crossing the Rio Grande River into the United States from Mexico in Roma, Texas, July 28, 2021.

Has there been reaction to the Biden administration's retention of the policy?

Yes. While U.S. authorities defend the policy as a practical necessity, immigration rights advocates accuse the administration of abandoning its human rights obligations.

"Expedited removal should not be used under any circumstances. The risk of getting it wrong is simply too high. If the administration insists on use of this archaic black box of a process, there must be adequate protections in place, which have not been accounted for under the recent announcement," said Gracie Willis, attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a press call.

At a recent press briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "It's [Title 42] rooted in preventing the introduction of contagious diseases into the interior of the United States."

She added that U.S. health authorities had not lifted the measure, "because they feel there is an ongoing threat."

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    Aline Barros

    Aline Barros is an immigration reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining VOA in 2016, Aline worked for the Gazette Newspapers and Channel 21 Montgomery Community Media, both in Montgomery County, Md. She has been published by the Washington Post, G1 Portal Brazilian News, and Fox News Latino. Aline holds a broadcast journalism degree from University of Maryland. Follow her @AlineBarros2.

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