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House Democrats call for office to rethink unfair deportations

Lawmakers seek language in a spending bill to establish an independent review office in the Department of Homeland Security

Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Lou Correa of California.
Democratic Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Lou Correa of California. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Nearly three dozen Democrats have called on House appropriators to use next fiscal year’s government spending package to create a dedicated office in the Department of Homeland Security that would review requests to overturn unjust deportation orders.

In a letter sent Wednesday and obtained by CQ Roll Call, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, Lou Correa of California and 29 other House Democrats asked the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee to add language in the fiscal 2024 Homeland Security spending bill that would establish “an independent, centralized unit” to review removal cases.

“Without a dedicated unit for reviewing and reversing unjust deportations, persons whom prior administrations deported in violation of the law cannot remedy their removals,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter.

The letter is addressed to Rep. David Joyce, R-Ohio, chairman of the subcommittee, and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, ranking member of that panel.

The Democrats told the spending leaders that current options for deported people to ask to have their cases reconsidered are “unduly burdensome and inaccessible to most individuals without legal counsel.”

The proposed office would review cases where individuals were ordered deported based on inaccurate information, based on offenses that would no longer trigger deportation, or where there are humanitarian concerns, the letter states.

The office could take advantage of existing legal authorities to facilitate the return of people deemed to have been deported unfairly, including by allowing them to live temporarily in the U.S., offering deportation relief, or reopening their old immigration cases.

Such language would bolster a provision on the issue that was included in the explanatory statements for the fiscal 2022 and 2023 Homeland Security spending bills.

That provision instructs DHS to “leverage all mechanisms provided by current law to facilitate the return to the United States of those whose removal was contrary to law, whose removal order has since been overturned or reopened by judicial order, where the return of an individual would correct an error or assist in an ongoing criminal or any other federal, state, tribal, or territorial investigation.”

Correa, who serves as ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee’s border security panel, said in an interview Thursday that the request is “about due process.”

“It’s not about amnesty,” Correa said, referring to the term Republicans often use to describe measures that help undocumented immigrants. “It’s about your day in court.”

The California Democrat recounted a childhood memory when his uncle, who he said is a U.S. citizen with an accent, was questioned by border agents and nearly wrongly detained at a checkpoint while the family was on their way home from a vacation.

“You see my uncle fumbling through his wallet, trying to find this identification that showed him as an American citizen, and literally they were getting ready to put him on a bus to go to Mexico,” Correa said. “At that moment, he had a judge and a jury in this officer that was not making the right call.”

Cleaver said in a statement that Congress “has a moral obligation to streamline the review process and provide justice to these individuals, who are important, contributing members of their community, and we won’t stop fighting until that happens.”

The Democrats’ effort would build upon an existing Biden administration initiative to bring back unfairly deported veterans. This initiative, launched in 2021, allows U.S. veterans and their immediate family members who were deported after their military service to request to return to the country.

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