By Phineas Rueckert
Thousands of undocumented Queens residents could be subject to rapid deportation proceedings without a court appearance, based on an expansion of existing “expedited removal” policies by the Trump administration that went into effect Tuesday.
The American Civil Liberties Union has called the expansion “extremely sweeping” and has vowed legal action against the Trump administration.
Previously, expedited removal only applied to noncitizens apprehended within 100 miles of the border and fewer than 14 days following their arrival to the country. The new policy will extend nationwide and require undocumented immigrants to prove two years of ‘continuous’ residency in the United States. It also gives Department of Homeland Security agents the ability to quickly deport individuals who are unable to prove two years continuous residence in the country — sometimes in as little as a few hours.
“It makes me fear for people’s constitutional rights and for the law and for the system,” said Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who represents Corona, Elmhurst and Jackson Heights.
Exactly how many Queens residents could be affected by the expansion of expedited removal is not clear. The non-partisan Immigration Policy Institute has estimated that around 300,000 undocumented immigrants — or just under 3 percent of the total undocumented population — could be at risk nationwide. Queens has the largest undocumented population of any borough in the city: around 184,000 people.
Advocates say regardless of how many people are directly impacted by expanded expedited removal, the policy is an attack on immigrant communities.
“On the face of it, given the large number of immigrant communities in Queens, both longstanding and very recent ones, it would seem that Queens would be particularly impacted,” said Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, an advocacy organization for South Asian immigrant populations in the borough.
“Regardless of if it actually ends up applying here or not, regardless of whether it continues, it is a very dangerous turn of our political climate and it further highlights the xenophobic and racist agendas of the current administration, and the forces allied with them, to target and get rid of communities of color,” he continued.
Actually identifying undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for fewer than two years will be easier said than done.
Alexandra Goncalves-Peña, the managing attorney at Catholic Migration Services, said that DHS would face major logistical challenges in identifying undocumented immigrants who had been in the country for less than two years without conducting major raids.
“A vast majority of the individuals who could be affected by this are people who haven’t had encounters with federal immigration officers in the past,” Goncalves-Peña said. “In practice it is going to be very hard for this policy to actually do what they say they want it to do.”
“This is just another intentional policy that more than anything is being promulgated to instill a deep fear in immigrant communities,” she continued.
From Clinton to Trump, a changing policy
Expedited removal is not new. The policy dates back to 1996 when it was authorized by Congress during the Bill Clinton administration. But the current administration has moved to drastically expand the scope of the policy.
In January 2017, the Trump administration announced it would expand expedited removal beyond the border zone through an executive order. That order went into effect Tuesday.
“The new designation adds one more tool for DHS—utilizing specific authority from Congress—to confront the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis on the Southwest border and throughout the country,” DHS Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said in a statement. “We are past the breaking point and must take all appropriate action to enforce the law, along the U.S. borders and within the country’s interior. This designation makes it clear that if you have no legal right to be here, we will remove you.”
DHS says that the policy is also intended to help reduce the backlog in immigration courts, where nearly 1 million immigration cases are on hold, including more than 100,000 in New York, according to Syracuse University TRAC Immigration database.
Immigrants’ rights groups worry, however, that the policy will not only endanger noncitizens, but also legal residents who are unable to immediately show documents proving legal status.
“Such a truncated process means there is a greater chance that persons are being erroneously deported from the United States, potentially to imminent harm or death,” the American Immigration Council wrote. “Because of the likelihood of an overzealous and flawed application of expedited removal, it is possible that even noncitizens who have been present for more than two years will risk being subject to expedited removal.”
Experts say that expedited removal proceedings are more likely to violate due process, as it gives immigration agents unprecedented authority to deport people without legal representation or informing them of their right to apply for asylum.
Under the ‘expedited removal’ policy, “there’s far less due process, there’s far less ability to access the asylum system,” said Donald Kerwin, the executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York. “It’s one of those situations where immigration officials are the police, the judge and the jury.”
Although CBP and ICE officials are required by law to inform noncitizens who have been in the country for fewer than two years of their right to apply for asylum given a ‘credible fear’ of persecution, even in expedited proceedings, they frequently fail to do this, Kerwin said.
“What [researchers have] consistently found is that one of six people that ought to be referred to credible fear interviews aren’t,” he continued.
DHS in Queens
Despite promises of large-scale immigration raids in major US cities, including New York, only one confirmed immigration raid has taken place in Queens in the past two weeks, in Far Rockaway.
Nevertheless, as the Eagle has reported, community members and advocates are preparing for the possibility of increased presence of ICE and DHS agents.
Whether targeted enforcement actions actually increase with the new directive from the Trump administration remains to be seen.
“My question [is] how are they planning to do this?” Cruz, the Queens assemblymember, asked of the Trump administration’s expansion of expedited removal. “Logistically, how do they plan to do this?”