U.S. to Give Border Patrol Agents the Power to
Deport Illegal Aliens
By RACHEL L. SWARNS
Published: August 11, 2004
WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 - Citing concerns about terrorists crossing the
nation's borders, the Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday
that it planned to give border patrol agents sweeping new powers to
deport illegal aliens from the frontiers with Mexico and Canada without
providing them the opportunity to make their case before an immigration
The move, which will take effect this month, represents a broad
expansion of the authority of the thousands of law enforcement agents
who patrol the nation's borders. Until now, border patrol agents
typically delivered undocumented immigrants to the custody of the
immigration courts, where judges determined whether they should be
deported or remain in the United States.
Domestic security officials described the deportation process in
immigration courts - which hear asylum claims and other appeals to
remain in the country - as sluggish and cumbersome, saying illegal
immigrants often wait for more than a year before being deported while
straining the capacity of detention centers and draining critical
resources. Under the new system, immigrants will typically be deported
within eight days of their apprehension, officials said.
The Illegal Immigration and Reform Responsibility Act of 1996 authorized
the agency to deport certain groups of illegal immigrants without
judicial oversight, but until now it had permitted only officials at
airports and seaports to do so.
The new rule will apply to illegal immigrants caught within 100 miles of
the Mexican and Canadian borders who have spent up to 14 days within the
United States. Officials said the border agents would not focus on
deporting Mexicans and Canadians, who will still, for the most part,
have their cases heard in immigration court. The agents will concentrate
instead on immigrants from other countries. In fiscal year 2003, about
37,000 immigrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada -
primarily from Central America - were arrested along the Southwest
Officials said that the new plan would help deter illegal immigration,
speed deportations and address issues of border security.
"There is a concern that as we tighten the security of our ports of
entry through our biometric checks that there will be more opportunity
or more effort made by terrorists to enter our country through our vast
land borders," Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary for border security at
the Department of Homeland Security, said at a news conference.
The decision was hailed by officials who have long complained that the
nation's porous borders represent a serious threat to national security.
But it prompted a flurry of criticism from advocates for immigrants who
feared that the new system lacked adequate safeguards to ensure that
people fleeing persecution, Americans lacking paperwork or other
travelers with legitimate grounds to be in the United States would not
be improperly deported.
Mr. Hutchinson said that border agents would be trained in asylum law
and that immigrants who showed a credible fear of persecution would be
provided hearings before immigration judges, not returned to hostile
governments. "That right," he said of the right to apply for asylum, "is
Homeland security officials said that the training would last for
several days and that agents would begin their new duties in Tucson and
Advocates for immigrants said they feared mistakes would be made when
hastily trained border agents decide who should be deported and who
should not. Complaints about improper deportations have already been
reported at some airports and seaports.
"We're very concerned that we may see the mistaken deportations of
refugees, citizens and other legitimate visitors," said Eleanor Acer,
director of the asylum program of Human Rights First, an advocacy group.
"For refugees, it could be a life or death sentence."
The officials also announced plans on Tuesday to allow the roughly seven
million Mexicans who carry border crossing cards - which let them visit
the United States for three consecutive days - to visit for up to 30
days at a time using the same card.
Mr. Hutchinson said the announcements were part of a two-pronged
strategy. "We want to send a clear message that those individuals who
follow legal immigration rules will benefit, while those who choose to
break our nation's immigration laws will be promptly removed from the
U.S.," he said.
Evelyn Nazro, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Security and Trade, a
coalition that represents public officials and business leaders in
Texas, described the shift as "a step in the right direction."
But Ms. Nazro said that many business executives and public officials
would like Mexican visitors to be allowed to stay for six months, as
Canadian visitors are. "It's long been a real issue that Mexicans had
such limitations on their visas," she said.
Discussions about accelerating deportations along the nation's borders
have been held for some time. Tuesday's announcement is the second time
that the government has expanded the "expedited removal" process since
the Sept. 11 attacks.
In November 2002, the government said it was extending the process of
deportations without judicial review for undocumented immigrants at
airports to those at seaports.
Officials said that Mexicans were not the focus of the new deportation
efforts because most undocumented Mexicans choose to return after being
caught. But Mr. Hutchinson said that Mexicans who smuggle immigrants and
who repeatedly violate immigration laws would also be subject to the
In fiscal year 2003, about 43,000 immigrants were swiftly deported
without scrutiny from immigration judges. The new rules could nearly
double that figure, homeland security statistics suggest. Officials said
they would observe Tucson and Laredo, where roughly 3,050 agents will
assume their new duties, before applying the process to other border
regions. "After we get it going, we'll begin discussions about expanding
it," a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said.