Judge, Jury, and Cop

The Border Patrol's new powers


Since 1996 the U.S. Border Patrol's "expedited removal" procedure has allowed it to ship illegal immigrants home from airports and seaports without a hearing before an immigration judge. Now this power is being expanded to cover people crossing at the borders with Mexico and Canada.

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the Border Patrol, says deportation procedures that could take up to 12 months in the past can be processed in just a few days under the new policy. Many illegal immigrants are confined for months in detention centers while awaiting their court dates. "It's an effective use of the resources to enforce the immigrations laws of the country," he argues. "At the same time, we are protecting the rights of those persons who are seeking protection in the United States."

But Eleanor Acer, director of the asylum program at Human Rights First, says the expedited process cannot adequately protect the rights of asylum seekers. "It's destined to fail," she says. "It has no meaningful safeguards. This change gives border patrol officers the power to act like judges." In 2000 her group published "Is This America?," a study of expedited deportation in U.S. airports that cited many abuses as well as mistaken deportations of asylum seekers, businesspeople, and American citizens.