Three weeks ago, Border Patrol agents in Texas detained Francisco Erwin Galicia, an American-born U.S. citizen, on the presumption that he was in the country illegally (even though Galicia was carrying a Texas state ID card at the time.) Despite his protests, Galicia wasn’t released until Tuesday, after the Border Patrol finally transferred the 18-year-old to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and after the Dallas Morning News reported on the debacle.
Meanwhile, Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) met an Ecuadoran mother and her 13-year-old U.S.-born daughter in a McAllen, Texas, detention center. The girl was being held despite having her American passport in her possession. After the encounter with the congresswoman last week, both the mother and child were released.
If these were one-off errors, they would be regrettable but they could at least be understood in the context of “mistakes happen.” But such mistakes have become routine. The Los Angeles Times last year reported that the government had detained more than 1,480 U.S. citizens since 2012 on suspicion that they were living in the country illegally. One man spent 1,273 days in custody until he obtained a lawyer who persuaded the government that it had erred. These are Americans being imprisoned by their own government as it questions their right to live in the country in which they are citizens. Conservatives should be in an uproar about that, but, well, they’re not.
The wrongful detention of U.S. citizens is just one example of the federal government’s increasing disdain for civil liberties and due process in its immigration enforcement system. Now, President Trump is pushing fresh policies to expand the use of “expedited removals” that will make grotesque violations of constitutional rights even more likely. According to a summary of the new rule by the American Immigration Council, an immigrant advocacy group, immigration officers have long been allowed by law and regulation to order the removal from the United States of any non-citizen at the border who lacks proper documents, as well as any undocumented migrant who has been in the U.S. for 14 days or less and is encountered within 100 miles of the border.
The new rule would expand that zone to the entire nation, and apply it to any non-citizens who can’t prove they have been in the country for more than two years. That — including the denial of judicial review by an immigration court judge — increases the probability that people will be summarily deported (and maybe wrongly deported) on the say-so of immigration agents, and without receiving the right to due process the constitution guarantees to everyone living in the U.S., regardless of immigration status. Again, conservatives should be outraged but are not.
The failures of the U.S. immigration system long predate the fiascoes of the current administration, but President Trump’s special animus toward immigrants — and the policies concocted by the hard-liners surrounding him — has pushed enforcement over the line separating reasonable actions from immoral ones, especially in a nation whose very birth was predicated upon immigration.
Yes, the government has a right and a duty to protect its borders and to control who gets to enter and, more profoundly, who gets to become an American citizen. But that does not justify denying due process to asylum seekers or detaining American citizens.
Hard-liners argue that people living in the U.S. without permission have broken the law and should be removed. And it’s true that many ought to be — particularly those who have been convicted of violent acts and other criminal transgressions. But the expanded expedited removal power targets people indiscriminately, including those with the clear right to request asylum or to make other arguments in American immigration courts.
To allow immigration agents far from the nation’s borders to summarily pluck people off the streets just because they don’t have ready access to proof that they have been here for two years puts far too much power in the hands of the immigration police. Particularly when racial profiling by low-level immigration agents occurs at an unconscionable level.
Fundamental issues of due process hang in the balance. Do we really want this to be a country in which uniformed officers can stop anyone and demand, “papers, please.”