SAN DIEGO (CN) - The Department of Homeland Security refuses to release statistics and documents about Customs and Border Protection's practice of deporting people without a hearing, the ACLU claims in court.
The civil liberties group asked in February for information on how many people had been subjected to an expedited removal policy under the Illegal Immigration and Immigrant Responsibility Act - a 1996 law that includes "sweeping provisions limiting the process and judicial review afforded to non-citizens."
Under expedited removal, Customs and Border Protection agents have the power to remove people "in a matter of hours" without a hearing before an immigration judge, the ACLU says.
Voluntary removal, meanwhile, allows immigration officials to deport "with alarming speed and without the involvement of an immigration judge."
"The process allows immigration enforcement officers to present non-citizens with the option to depart the country immediately in lieu of immigration court proceedings," the complaint states. "As alleged in a recent class-action lawsuit
, immigration enforcement officers in Southern California routinely misrepresent the consequences of voluntary return and encourage and coerce Mexican nationals to waive their right to see a judge."
In a second records request, the ACLU says, it asked for copies of handbooks border agents use to follow the procedures.
"The manner in which the government deports individuals has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Increasingly large percentages of individuals removed from this country are now expelled without ever seeing a judge, without speaking with an attorney, and without having any idea how or why they were removed," the lawsuit states.
Relying on the Department of Homeland Security's 2013 annual report, the ACLU says that in 2012 more than 500,000 people were removed without seeing a judge.
"Expedited removals represented 39 percent of all removals in 2012," the complaint states.
The government has blocked alternative methods of reporting on streamlined removals, the ACLU says. In addition to barring reporters at the border area near Granjeno City, Texas, border agents may face criminal charges if they speak to the media, according to the lawsuit.
"Given these circumstances, a response to plaintiff's FOIA requests is critically important to a great number of people who otherwise have no information about how their tax dollars are being used to remove individuals without a hearing, and whether those removals violate the basic rights recognized by the United States and the international community," the lawsuit states.
The group seeks a declaration that withholding the records is unlawful, an injunction, damages and costs. And it wants to see the record.
The ACLU is represented by house counsel Gabriela Rivera.