The Trump administration on Monday announced plans to extend the power immigration officers have to deport migrants before they appear at court, a move the White House said could mean less time for migrants in detention while cases wind their way through the legal system.
The American Civil Liberties Union and American Immigration Council promised that they would sue to block the policy that is expected to begin Tuesday.
Fast-track critics insist that the policy grants too much power to immigration agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials.
The announcement was the second major policy shift in eight days following an unprecedented surge of families from Central America's Northern Triangle of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Royce Murray, the managing director of the American Immigration Council, told The New York Times that the Trump administration is “throwing everything they have at asylum seekers in an effort to turn everyone humanly possible away and to deport as many people as possible."
The fast-track deportations can apply to anyone in the country illegally for less than two years.
Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland Security secretary, portrayed the nationwide extension of “expedited removal” authority as another Trump administration effort to address an “ongoing crisis on the southern border” by freeing up beds in detention facilities and reducing a backlog of more than 900,000 cases in immigration courts.
He said Homeland Security officials with the new deportation power will deport migrants in the country illegally more quickly than the Justice Department’s immigration courts, where cases can take years to resolve.
Omar Jawdat, director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, slammed the plan as “unlawful.” He said under the plan, “immigrants who have lived here for years would be deported with less due process than people get in traffic court.”
"Expedited removal" gives enforcement agencies broad authority to deport people without allowing them to appear before an immigration judge with limited exceptions, including if they express fear of returning home and pass an initial screening interview for asylum.
McAleenan said 20,570 people arrested in the nation's interior from October 2017 through September 2018 year had been in the U.S. less than two years, which would make them eligible for fast-track deportation under the new rule.
The average stay in immigration detention for people in fast-track removal was 11.4 days from October 2017 through September 2018, compared to 51.5 days for people arrested in the nation's interior.
The Associated Press contributed to this report