A Lesser-Known Trump Immigration Policy Needs Biden’s AttentionRoundup
tags: immigration, civil liberties, deportation, Law Enforcement, undocumented migrants
Smita Ghosh is a research fellow at Georgetown University Law Center, where she researches the history of immigration detention.
President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policies, the centerpiece of his presidency, were deeply unpopular with the public, and he seemed to play down the issue in the final weeks of the election campaign. With the end of Trump’s administration in sight, immigration advocates and activists are looking to the Biden transition team to see what actions the new president will take to protect immigrant rights. He might start with a policy that has so far escaped national attention, but — if history is any guide — could have a huge impact on immigrant communities.
The policy is called expedited removal, a process by which a noncitizen is deported by enforcement officials without a hearing before an immigration judge. Since 1996, when Congress created the process of expedited removals, presidential administrations had used the power sparingly. Specifically, immigration officials employed this “fast-track” deportation process relatively close to the border, and for people who had been in the country for less than two weeks. In October 2020, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would apply expedited removal everywhere, and to any undocumented immigrant who has been in the country for less than two years.
In the history of expedited removals, this move is unprecedented. Without a recent example, we can look back to an earlier era to demonstrate the consequences of fast-track deportations — and learn how to resist them.
In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his commissioner of immigration, Gen. Joseph Swing, a U.S. Military Academy classmate who brought a military approach to border enforcement, launched what was called “Operation Wetback” to address a perceived immigration problem. “Wetback,” or mojado, was a derogatory term used to describe Mexican migrants.
Swing organized Border Patrol officers into “task forces” to concentrate on a single community at a time — first California, then Texas, then Chicago, where, according to the Chicago Daily News, a “small army of immigration officers searched through the city for offenders.” These task forces raided places of work, private homes and public areas like parks or bus stops. Migrants encountered in the raids would be detained in makeshift detention camps.
In Los Angeles, the Immigration Service leased Elysian Park from the Department of Parks and Recreation to create a barbed-wire enclosed detention camp in 1954. George Hackney, a self-described “good Republican,” wrote in a letter to the attorney general that migrants there were “treated like animals.” After being detained, most migrants were quickly removed to Mexico by bus, train or boat. The private transportation companies that performed these expulsions were inattentive to the welfare of their human cargo, cutting corners when they could. Indeed, as the historian Adam Goodman has argued, the “abysmal conditions” served to “punish deportees.”