August 18, 2004
On Aug. 10, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would give sweeping new powers to Border Patrol agents to deport undocumented immigrants. But enlisting these agents to perform the role of "judges" is unwise and shortsighted.
Under current policy for "expedited removal," undocumented immigrants typically go before a trained immigration judge who decides whether the person may remain in the United States or should be deported.
Under the new policy, Border Patrol officers will now make these important decisions.
We don't let police officers sentence the people they pick up. Why should we let the Border Patrol?
The new policy opens the door for increased abuse and errors by immigration officers.
Since 1992, Human Rights Watch, a nonpartisan organization, has documented ongoing abuse by Border Patrol agents, ranging from verbal harassment to sexual assault, beatings and lethal force.
Human-rights organizations have complained for years that the government often fails to investigate complaints against Border Patrol officials. The new policy would likely only exacerbate the situation.
One major concern is the issue of citizens, legal residents and lawful visitors being mistakenly deported under the new policy.
Groups that work with refugees also have concerns. According to the Department of Homeland Security, individuals who express a fear of persecution or torture, or who intend to apply for asylum will be sent to an asylum officer for a "credible fear" interview. A person found to have "credible fear" will be referred to a judge.
It will be in the hands of Border Patrol agents to make the quick decision whether to refer an individual to an asylum officer. This is often a life and death decision, and the new policy would raise the possibility that individuals who would be eligible for refuge in this country could instead be deported.
Within a few weeks, immigration officers will begin deporting immigrants who are detained within 14 days of their arrival to the United States and within 100 miles of the U.S. borders with Canada or Mexico. According to Homeland Security, the new policy is not aimed at Mexicans or Canadians, but at other immigrants crossing the border.
Homeland Security officials argue that the expanded policy will assist in deterring undocumented immigration, strengthen border security and help speed up deportations.
While it would certainly hasten the speed of deportations by omitting judicial review, it is unlikely to discourage undocumented migration.
Over the past decade, policies intended to deter migration have resulted primarily in migrants taking higher risks to enter the country.
Although the United States has every right to patrol its borders, it also has the obligation to defend human rights and to ensure that our laws are carried out in a humane and lawful manner. Removing the systems of checks and balances that is part of the deportation process threatens the human rights of immigrants and citizens like.
Yolanda Chvez Leyva is a historian specializing in Mexican-American and border history. She lives in Texas. She can be reached at email@example.com.