Judge Blocks Extension of Fast-Track Deportations

WASHINGTON (CN) — Pro-immigrant groups applauded a federal judge Monday for blocking a policy shift that the Trump administration said would allow it to deport hundreds of thousands of people arrested without sufficient residency papers. 

Immigrants awaiting deportation hearings line up outside the building that houses the immigration courts in Los Angeles on June 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Amy Taxin)

In contrast to a previous policy that triggered expedited removal without a hearing for people arrested within 100 miles from the border, the policy adopted in July would extend past 100 miles, sweeping up immigrants who cannot document U.S. residency dating back more than two years.

U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson enjoined the new policy in a 126-page opinion published just before midnight Friday.

Among other criticisms, Brown called it “quite troubling” that the administration had argued courts do not hold the power to stop executive branch officials from violating the law.

Kristin Macleod-Ball, an attorney with the American Immigration Council, emphasized in an interview Monday that federal agencies have for years been hastily deporting asylum seekers without adequately considering the persecution they might face in their home countries.

“The system doesn’t include an opportunity for people to make their claims in front of a neutral adjudicator, an immigration judge,” said Macleod-Ball, who signed on to an August lawsuit challenging the policy. “The entire system is operated by CBP officers. The same agency that has taken these folks into custody is in charge of listening to their stories and issuing rushed removal deportation orders.”

Macleod-Ball highlighted in particular the trend of customs officers denying necessary translation services and at times coercing asylum seekers into dropping their claims. 

In court earlier this month, Justice Department attorney Erez Reuveni confirmed that there is little red tape once the ball gets rolling.

“I don’t want to be glib, but it’s called expedited removal. It happens quick,” DOJ attorney Erez Reuveni said, later adding deportation can be executed in just hours.

Friday’s ruling harshly criticizes the Trump administration for considering only the possible “upsides” of the policy change, including national security and reduced costs.

“There is no evident consideration of the considerable downsides of adopting a policy that, in many respects, could significantly impact people’s everyday lives in many substantial, tangible, and foreseeable ways,” Jackson wrote. 

Jackson also wrote that she “squarely rejects” the government’s bid to narrow the scope of the injunction so that it would apply only to immigrants the civil rights groups represent.

“Apparently unwilling to accept that required result, the government has conjured up a strawman by insisting that, even when a plaintiff successfully establishes that an agency’s rulemaking is fatally flawed, federal district courts must avoid enjoining an agency rule on a ‘nationwide’ basis,” Jackson wrote.

Jackson chided the administration as well for failing to carry out the legally required public notice and comment period before announcing the policy change on July 23. She wrote that the procedural requirement is necessary to “promote transparency” and “prevent arbitrary decision” by unelected officials. 

Macleod-Ball called it clear from Jackson’s strongly worded opinion that the judge agreed the system is rushed.

Jackson’s opinion Friday concludes with a note that the civil rights groups are “likely to be successful on the merits” of their claims. 

The government argued in court earlier this month that a policy freeze would be premature, given it had not placed any deported in expedited removal under the rule, with immigration officers first scheduled to complete training.

But Jackson dubiously replied in court: “You pulled the trigger in so much as you announced Sep. 1 as the start date.”

The Justice Department declined to comment on the injunction.

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