The Trump administration has tried a number of initiatives to deter Central American families from coming to the U.S. by separating parents from children, banning people who enter the country illegally from claiming asylum, limiting the number of legal asylum seekers who can enter the country.
Now, Trump appears to be focusing on a tactic that could withstand legal challenges: mass raids to round up thousands of migrant parents and children and put them on a fast track for deportation if they miss a court hearing.
Aggressive Immigration Tactics in Trump Era
The Washington Post reported Monday that former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and top immigration enforcement official Ronald Vitiello were forced out in part because they opposed a blitz of raids in major U.S. cities that would have also included fast-track deportations of people who missed a court hearing. While the plan has been tabled for the time being, it remains under consideration.
“We have seen this administration target specific locations for raids in the past, or specific populations, but what we haven’t seen is any plan for an operation this big,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council.
And yet fast-tracking of deportations is already happening. Thousands of newly arrived migrant families living in major U.S. cities are being targeted for deportation under a new Justice Department immigration docket that seeks to get around a years-long immigration court backlog.
That docket currently received 40,000 cases from September 24, 2018, through April 26, 2019, for 10 major U.S. cities. Of the 8,000 cases that have been completed, more than 6,700 parents and children have been ordered deported “in absentia” because they missed a court hearing. Most of the affected families are in New York, Miami, Houston, and Atlanta.
The Department of Justice confirmed that data and noted that it has been prioritizing the processing of migrant families since November.
Trump has railed against asylum seekers, saying they skip their court hearings and then stay in the country. But the “in absentia” rates don’t take into account the full range of court hearings. The Justice Department’s own data shows that the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers showed up to their court hearings.
“The administration has identified a legitimate problem — asylum adjudications are taking years when they really should occur within a month,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute in D.C. “But their answer to that problem, speeding court cases, is just resulting in mass deportation orders.”
Pierce said the administration could take other steps to cut down on the asylum process, including better case management or having asylum officers make final decisions.