Aug. 13, 2004 – To the chagrin of immigrantsâ€™ rights advocates, the Department of Homeland Security has announced plans to expand a program that sends undocumented immigrants back to their home countries without judicial approval. Known as "expedited removal," the program is already employed at border checkpoints and airports. But soon it will apply to undocumented immigrants other than first time offenders from Canada and Mexico. All others who are picked up in within 100 miles of the Mexican border in Arizona and Texas who have been in the United States less than fourteen days will be vulnerable to "expedited removal."
Advocates for immigrants rights expressed concern that asylum seekers, fleeing repression in their home countries, may be deported without proper judicial review. "Those of us who have worked with refugees know that it takes an awful lot of confidence-building to get people to reveal the dangers back home and the atrocities," Isabel Garcia of a Tucson immigrant rights group called Derechos Humanos told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We're concerned people will be sent back to face possible death or incarceration."
But Bill Strassberger, spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, sought to allay such concerns, saying that "individuals who express a fear of being returned will be referred to a 'credible fear' interview with an asylum officer, and if they're deemed to have a credible fear of persecution, they will go to an immigration judge for an asylum hearing."
Garcia, in an interview with Free Speech Radio News, countered that only immigration judges, and not immigration agents, are qualified to determine if someone is eligible for asylum. "Immigration agents are not in any position to be a judge in a few minutes or maybe a few hours on whether the person has a credible fear of persecution," she said.