Proposed bill would speed up illegal immigrant deportation cases

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, said Tuesday that he plans to introduce a bill that would expedite the removal of thousands of illegal immigrants whose deportation cases are log-jammed in immigration courts.

The announcement comes just days after White House officials announced a plan to review about 300,000 deportation cases and cancel all cases except those of criminal immigrants.

Hunter called the White House plan a "blatant disregard for the law."

Under the policy announced last week, President Barack Obama's administration said it wants the Department of Homeland Security and the Justice Department to use "prosecutorial discretion" to suspend the deportations of most immigrants who have committed immigration violations, but have not been convicted of other crimes.

Critics of the new policy have called it a backdoor amnesty.

"What the administration is doing is sending a loud message across our borders that we are not serious about enforcing our nation's immigration laws while backdoor channels remain wide open to millions of others," Hunter said. "The decision to grant deportation reprieves is just another attempt to provide amnesty by circumventing Congress and ignoring the calls of the American people for stronger border security and workplace enforcement."

The idea for the bill precedes the administration's new policy, Hunter said; it was conceived months ago after a report was released detailing the huge backlogs in immigration courts, he said.

The congressman, whose 52nd District includes parts of North County, said he is gathering co-sponsors for the bill. But the legislation faces a tough road when it is introduced because the Democratic-led Senate is unlikely to approve it and the president is unlikely to sign it if it makes it to his desk.

The administration's new policy would free up resources to focus on cases involving criminal immigrants, such as gang members, drug traffickers and illegal immigrants who have returned after being repeatedly deported, supporters say.

"The American people are smart enough to recognize that border security will be increased by the administration's efforts to bring people already in the United States out of the shadows and use the government's limited resources to deport aliens convicted of criminal offenses instead of spending those same resources deporting mothers, fathers, spouses ... who have no criminal records," said Matt Holt, a San Diego immigration lawyer and spokesman for the American Immigration Lawyer's Association.

Hunter said he will introduce his bill after Congress returns from its summer break next month. He said it would make it easier for authorities to deport people whose immigration cases are pending.

The bill would:

Require that immigration officers order the immediate removal of an illegal immigrant who has not been continuously living in the U.S. for a period of four years, unless he or she has been charged with a crime, plans to apply for asylum or is determined to be a national security risk.

  • Require that immigration officers refer immigrants who are seeking asylum to an asylum officer only if the immigrant has been in the country for less than a year.

  • Make it clear that the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to expedite the removal of criminal immigrants.

  • Limit the ability to grant stays of removal to illegal immigrants who have been ordered removed.

Holt said some of the bill's proposals would violate existing U.S. policies and international agreements on the treatment of asylum seekers. Other parts of the bill, such as the fast-track removal of criminal immigrants, are already in place, Holt said.

Obama has been under intense pressure from immigrant rights groups for the administration's aggressive use of programs, such as Secure Communities, a federal program that helps identify and deport illegal immigrants held in local jails, while failing to get Congress to agree on a comprehensive immigration bill that would grant some of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants permanent residency. 

Nearly 800,000 people have been deported over the last two years as a result of programs such as Secure Communities.

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