On Monday, the Trump administration announced a dramatic expansion of the so-called "expedited removal" procedures by which the federal government can deport individuals suspected of being in the United States illegally. Beginning Tuesday, immigration officials may initiate removal proceedings for anyone, anywhere who cannot prove they have lived in the country for at least two years. Detainees have no meaningful due process rights—to an attorney, to a trial, to a hearing before an immigration judge. Whatever the official's decision, detainees have no right to appeal it.
Expedited removal isn't new; Congress first authorized it in 1996, passing a law allowing immigration officials to fast-track the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants "without further hearing or review." But until yesterday, with respect to unauthorized crossings at the border, federal regulations limited the use of expedited removal to a relatively narrow set of circumstances: only to those detained within 100 miles of the border, and within 14 days of their arrival in the U.S. At the time, the Bush White House explained that it wanted to focus its limited resources on "unlawful entries that have a close spatial and temporal nexus to the border."
The Trump administration's policy does away with these limitations in scope, extending the 100-mile geographic limitation to the entire country and the two-week period to two years—on both metrics, the outer limits of what the 1996 law authorizes. From this point forward, any undocumented person who cannot demonstrate to an immigration officer a continuous, two-year period of physical presence in the United States could be deported within hours. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 300,000 people could be affected by this shift. What was ostensibly a tool to police the border is now a license to stop people of color on the street and demand to see their papers.
The burden of proof at all times rests with the detainee, who must make their case "to the satisfaction of" the agent, and with no chance to collect evidence or prepare an argument. This amounts to a de facto pop-up trial in which a person must account for their whereabouts for the previous 24 months, on the spot, using only the things in their pockets. Among other things, the presiding officer does not consider whether a person is eligible to apply for lawful status; whether they have family in the United States; whether they have a house, a car, a job to lose if they suddenly disappear; or whether they have children at home, waiting on their parent's return. As the American Immigration Council notes, without a court to serve as an institutional check in this process, each immigration officer is basically both "prosecutor and judge" for those they route into the expedited removal pipeline.
Federal law exempts those seeking asylum—refugees from persecution in their home countries on political, ethnic, religious, or other grounds—from expedited removal. But this exception to the system depends entirely on the arresting officer's willingness to ask each detainee, in good faith, if they have a "credible fear" of returning to their country of origin. If the officer forgets, or doesn't communicate the question clearly, or for any other reason fails to ask it—according to one federal report, officers have been known to unlawfully pressure detainees to drop legitimate claims, too—expedited removal could send people with legitimate asylum claims back to the dangerous places they fled.
The White House's announcement comes at a time when, with increasing frequency, U.S. citizens and lawful residents are becoming victims of immigration officials' zeal for arresting undocumented people. Last year, a Los Angeles Times investigation found that since 2012, ICE has had to release nearly 1,500 people from its custody after corroborating their claims of U.S. citizenship; some of them spent years in prison as a result. Today, the Dallas Morning News reported that CBP officials in Texas imprisoned a Hispanic teenager and U.S. citizen—one who showed his birth certificate, his Social Security card, and his state-issued ID when stopped at the border—for three weeks before allowing him a phone call. He still has yet to be released.
A nationwide expedited-removal system will exacerbate the effects of the immigration enforcement system's most serious flaws. It encourages state-sanctioned harassment and racial profiling, and increases the odds that bureaucratic mistakes come with profound consequences. For this administration, the people presumed to belong in America are white. Everyone else has to prove it.
Originally Appeared on GQ