Maria de la Paz, a U.S. citizen, was deported when the immigration agent who interviewed her assumed she was not born in the United States because she couldn’t speak to him in English. Eventually, the U.S. government recognized her citizenship and issued her a passport, but only after her attorney filed a habeas petition on her behalf.
Then there is Nydia R., a transgender woman from Mexico. Despite having been granted asylum by the United States, she was twice unlawfully deported to danger. “I didn’t know the immigration agents could have helped me,” Nydia said, recalling her treatment at the U.S. border after being raped and attacked by gangs. “They had known all the reasons I was trying to come back to the U.S. and even knowing them, they sent me back.” Deported to Mexico, Nydia was kidnapped and trafficked into the sex trade.
These are just two people’s stories which are revealed in a comprehensive study by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of expedited deportations ordered by federal immigration agents instead of judges. The ACLA found numerous incidents of people with rights or strong claims to be in the United States who were deported without the chance to be heard.
The Advocates for Human Rights highlighted concerns about the increasing reliance upon summary deportation procedures in its most recent submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which will examine the U.S human rights record at its upcoming Universal Periodic Review in May 2015:
The Advocates also raised this concern in its 2014 report, Moving from Exclusion to Belonging: Immigrant Rights in Minnesota Today. The Advocates identified these summary proceedings and other streamlined deportation efforts that have created conditions for constitutional violations with no effective remedy.
The ACLU’s investigative report titled “American Exile: Rapid Deportations That Bypass the Courtroom” is based on more than 130 cases of individuals who were deported, sometimes in a matter of hours, without the most basic due process protections — including a hearing before a judge and the chance to defend their claims. These deportations are ordered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including officers of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a DHS agency embroiled in controversy that has been widely criticized for lacking oversight and accountability.
“Under the current system, thousands of people are subject to the whim and mercy of immigration officers who are acting as prosecutor, judge and deporter,” said Sarah Mehta, researcher with the ACLU’s Human Rights Program and author of the report. “These officers are not equipped with the legal knowledge and expertise to decide who has rights or valid claims to enter and live in the United States.”
There are more than 40,000 CBP officers authorized to issue these deportation orders with no lawyers or evidence required and no independent review as mandated by human rights law.
“If fairness and justice matter, our government has to allow people with claims and rights to be in the United States a real opportunity to defend those rights,” said Mehta. “Our government has separated families and deported people to their death when we failed to give them the most basic opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves. We must do better — both for those facing deportation and the families left behind.”
According to the report findings, in 2013 the United States conducted 438,421 deportations. In more than 363,279 of those deportations — over 83 percent — there was no hearing or review by a judge before the person was removed. These deportation orders come with the same significant penalties as deportation orders issued by a judge after a full hearing. An immigration officer can order someone deported and banned from the United States anywhere from five years to a lifetime. If an officer makes a mistake and deports some with a right or valid claim to remain in the United States there is virtually no way for that person to rescind the deportation order.
Prior to 1996, the vast majority of people facing deportations from this country had immigration court hearings. Now most do not, opening the way for errors or outright abuse.
In addition to information from interviews with deportees, their families, lawyers and community advocates, “American Exile” includes recommendations to the federal government that are even more important in light of President Obama’s recent executive action announcement, which included both deferrals of deportations and new DHS-wide prosecutorial discretion guidance. For example, there are recommendations to immigration enforcement agencies on screening for individuals who qualify for relief and to ensure that people unlawfully deported have the chance to fix those errors.
Last Friday, a report by the U.N. Committee Against Torture expressed concerns over “the expansion of expedited removal procedures, which do not adequately take into account the special circumstances of asylum seekers and other persons in need of international protection.”
The committee’s “concluding observations” also expressed concerns over CBP personnel failing to identify and refer many of the individuals placed in expedited removal for an asylum-screening interview and recommended to the United States to “review the use of expedited removal procedures, and guarantee access to counsel.”
This blog post is based on a news release received by the American Civil Liberties Union. Attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Advocacy, contributed to the post.