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Eliminating Exception to Expedited Removal Authority for Cuban Nationals Arriving by Air

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Office of the Secretary, Department of Homeland Security.


Final rule; request for comments.


This final rule revises Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations to eliminate the categorical exception from expedited removal proceedings for Cuban nationals who arrive in the United States at a port of entry by aircraft. As a result of these changes, Cuban nationals who arrive in the United States at a port of entry by aircraft will be subject to expedited removal proceedings commensurate with nationals of other countries.


This final rule is effective January 13, 2017. Interested persons are invited to submit written comments on this final rule on or before March 20, 2017.


You may submit comments, identified by Regulatory Information Number (RIN) 1601-AA81 and DHS Docket Number DHS-2017-0003, by any one of the following methods:

  • Federal e-Rulemaking Portal Follow the Web site instructions for submitting comments.
  • Mail or Hand Delivery/Courier: Please submit all written comments (including and CD-ROM submissions) to Amanda Baran, Principal Director for Immigration Policy, DHS, 245 Murray Lane SW., Mail Stop 0445, Washington, DC 20528.

Please submit your comments by only one method. Comments received by means other than those listed above or received after the comment period has closed will not be reviewed. All comments received will be posted without change on The Web site is the Federal e-rulemaking portal and comments posted there are available and accessible to the public. Commenters should not include personal information such as Social Security Numbers, personal addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses in their comments as such information will become viewable by the public on the Web site. It is the commenter's responsibility to safeguard his or her information. Comments submitted through will not include the commenter's email address unless the commenter chooses to include that information as part of his or her comment.

Postal delivery in Washington, DC, may be delayed due to security concerns. Therefore, DHS encourages the public to submit comments through the Web site.

Docket: For access to the docket to read background documents or comments received, go to the Federal eRulemaking portal at If you need assistance to review the comments, please contact the person identified in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section below.

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Amanda Baran, Principal Director for Immigration Policy, 202-282-8805,

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I. Background

Section 302 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), Public Law 104-208, Div. C, 110 Stat. 3009-546, amended section 235(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“Act”), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b), to authorize what are known as “expedited removal proceedings.” Specifically, section 235(b) was amended to authorize the Attorney General (now the Secretary of Homeland Security [1] ) to remove, without a hearing before an immigration judge, aliens arriving in the United States who are inadmissible under sections 212(a)(6)(C) or 212(a)(7) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(C) and 1182(a)(7), for lack of valid documents necessary for admission or entry or for procuring or seeking to procure a visa, other immigration-related documentation, admission to the United States, or other immigration benefit by fraud or willful misrepresentation of a material fact.

Expedited removal proceedings under section 235(b) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b), may be applied to two categories of aliens. First, expedited removal proceedings may be used for aliens who are “arriving in the United States.” Section 235(b)(1)(A)(i) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(i). Second, the Secretary, in his or her sole and unreviewable discretion, may designate certain other aliens to whom the expedited removal provisions may be applied. Section 235(b)(1)(A)(iii), 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(iii); see 8 CFR 235.3(b)(1)(ii).

When it created the expedited removal process, Congress also created a limited exception for certain aliens who arrived at a U.S. port of entry by aircraft. Under section 235(b)(1)(F) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(F), expedited removal “shall not apply to an alien who is a native or citizen of a country in the Western Hemisphere with whose government the United States does not have full diplomatic relations and who arrives by aircraft at a port of entry.” For many years, this exception applied to Cuban nationals due to the lack of full diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. DHS regulations implementing section 235(b)(1) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1), thus expressly stated that the expedited removal provisions apply to “[a]rriving aliens, as defined in 8 CFR 1.2, except for citizens of Cuba arriving at a United States port-of-entry by aircraft.” 8 CFR 235.3(b)(1)(i); see also 8 Start Printed Page 4770CFR 1235.3(b)(1)(i) (parallel Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations stating that the expedited removal provisions apply to “[a]rriving aliens, as defined in [8 CFR 1001.1(q)], except for citizens of Cuba arriving at a United States port-of-entry by aircraft”).[2]

Since that regulation was promulgated, significant changes in the relationship between the United States and Cuba have occurred. In December 2014, President Obama announced a historic opening between the United States and Cuba, as well as an approach for reestablishing diplomatic relations and adjusting regulations to facilitate greater travel, commerce, people-to-people ties, and the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. On July 20, 2015, the United States and Cuba formally reestablished full diplomatic relations and opened embassies in each other's countries. In the time following the reestablishment of full diplomatic relations, the United States and Cuba have taken concrete steps towards enhancing security, building bridges between our peoples, and promoting economic prosperity for citizens of both countries. And recent migration discussions have yielded important changes that will dramatically affect travel and migration between our two countries. Among other things, Cuba has agreed to accept and facilitate the repatriation of its nationals who are ordered removed from the United States. This arrangement and other changes remain the focus of ongoing diplomatic discussions between the two countries. DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, has determined that the limitation at section 235(b)(1)(F) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(F) no longer applies with respect to Cuba.

Moreover, DHS has recently seen a significant increase in attempts by Cuban nationals to illegally enter the United States. Many of those Cuban nationals have taken a dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico; others have taken to the high seas in the dangerous attempt to cross the Straits of Florida. DHS believes this increase in attempted migration has been driven in part by the perception that there is a limited window before the United States will eliminate favorable immigration policies for Cuban nationals.

The application of the expedited removal authorities to Cuban nationals must reflect these new realities. Accordingly, DHS is eliminating provisions in its regulations that categorically exempt Cuban nationals who arrive at a U.S. port of entry by aircraft from expedited removal proceedings under 8 CFR 235.3. Importantly, the statutory provision categorically barring the use of expedited removal for certain aliens who arrive by air no longer applies to Cuban nationals, as the United States and Cuba have reestablished full diplomatic relations. Moreover, previous U.S. policy justifications for exempting Cuban nationals from expedited removal—including Cuba's general refusal to accept the repatriation of its nationals—are no longer valid in many respects. Finally, a categorical exception severely impairs the Government's ability to remove unauthorized aliens encountered within the United States. For these reasons, DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, has determined that a categorical exception from expedited removal for Cuban nationals is no longer in the interests of the United States. Accordingly, as a result of this final rule, Cuban nationals will be subject to expedited removal proceedings under section 235(b) of the INA and 8 CFR 235.3 like nationals of other countries. For the same reasons, DHS is also publishing a notice in this issue of the Federal Register to remove the parallel exceptions for expedited removal of Cuban nationals who arrive by sea or who are encountered by an immigration officer within 100 air miles of the U.S. border.

II. Statutory and Regulatory Requirements

A. Administrative Procedure Act

The implementation of this rule as a final rule, with provisions for post-promulgation public comments, is based on the good cause exception found in section 553 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) (5 U.S.C. 553(b)(B)). Delaying the implementation of the change announced in this rule to allow pre-promulgation notice and comment would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest. Congress explicitly authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to designate categories of aliens to whom expedited removal proceedings may be applied, and made clear that “[s]uch designation shall be in the sole and unreviewable discretion of the Secretary and may be modified at any time.” Section 235(b)(1)(A)(iii)(I) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1225(b)(1)(A)(iii)(I). And this rule is necessary to remove quickly from the United States certain Cuban nationals who arrive by air at U.S. ports of entry. The ability to detain such aliens while admissibility and identity are determined and protection claims are adjudicated, as well as to quickly remove those without protection claims or claims to lawful status, is a necessity for national security and public safety.

Pre-promulgation notice and comment would undermine these interests, while endangering human life and having a potential destabilizing effect in the region. Specifically, DHS is concerned that publication of the rule as a proposed rule, which would signal a significant change in policy while permitting continuation of the exception for Cuban nationals, could lead to a surge in migration of Cuban nationals seeking to travel to and enter the United States during the period between the publication of a proposed and a final rule. Such a surge would threaten national security and public safety by diverting valuable Government resources from counterterrorism and homeland security responsibilities. A surge could also have a destabilizing effect on the region, thus weakening the security of the United States and threatening its international relations. Additionally, a surge could result in significant loss of human life. Accordingly, DHS finds that it would be impracticable and contrary to the public interest to accept pre-promulgation comments on this rule. For the same reasons, DHS also finds good cause to issue this rule without a 30-day delayed effective date requirement of the APA, see 5 U.S.C. 553(d).[3]

In addition, the change implemented by this rule is part of a major foreign policy initiative announced by the President, and is central to ongoing diplomatic discussions between the United States and Cuba with respect to travel and migration between the two countries. DHS, in consultation with the Department of State, has determined that eliminating the exception from expedited removal proceedings for Cuban nationals involves a foreign affairs function of the United States, 5 U.S.C. 553(a)(1), and is also exempt from the notice and comment and 30-day delayed effective date requirements of the APA on that basis. DHS is Start Printed Page 4771nevertheless providing the opportunity for the public to comment.

B. Executive Orders 13563 and 12866

Executive Orders 13563 and 12866 direct agencies to assess the costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). Executive Order 13563 emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and benefits, of reducing costs, of harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility.

The Office of Management and Budget has not designated this rule as a significant regulatory action under section 3(f) of Executive Order 12866. Accordingly, the Office of Management and Budget has not reviewed this rule.

C. Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.), as amended by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement and Fairness Act of 1996, requires an agency to prepare a regulatory flexibility analysis that describes the effect of a proposed rule on small entities when the agency is required to publish a general notice of proposed rulemaking. A small entity may be a small business (defined as any independently owned and operated business not dominant in its field that qualifies as a small business per the Small Business Act); a small not-for-profit organization; or a small governmental jurisdiction (locality with fewer than 50,000 people). Because this final rule is exempt from notice-and-comment rulemaking requirements under 5 U.S.C. 553, a regulatory flexibility analysis is not required.

Regulatory Amendments

Start List of Subjects

List of Subjects for 8 CFR Part 235

  • Administrative practice and procedure
  • Aliens
  • Immigration
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
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Authority and Issuance

For the reasons stated in the preamble, part 235 of title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as set forth below:


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1. The authority citation for part 235 continues to read:

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Authority: 8 U.S.C. 1101 and note, 1103, 1183, 1185 (pursuant to E.O. 13323, 69 FR 241, 3 CFR, 2004 Comp., p. 278), 1201, 1224, 1225, 1226, 1228, 1365a note, 1365b, 1379, 1731-32; Title VII of Public Law 110-229; 8 U.S.C. 1185 note (section 7209 of Pub. L. 108-458); Pub. L. 112-54.

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2. Revise § 235.3(b)(1)(i) to read as follows:

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Inadmissible aliens and expedited removal.
* * * * *

(b) * * *

(1) * * *

(i) Arriving aliens, as defined in 8 CFR 1.2;

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Signed: at Washington, DC, this 11th of January 2017.

Jeh Charles Johnson,

Secretary of Homeland Security.

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1.  Under section 1517 of title XV of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (HSA), Public Law 107-296, 116 Stat. 2135, any reference to the Attorney General in a provision of the INA describing functions that were transferred from the Attorney General or other Department of Justice (DOJ) official to DHS by the HSA “shall be deemed to refer to the Secretary” of Homeland Security. See 6 U.S.C. 557 (2003) (codifying HSA, tit. XV, sec. 1517); 6 U.S.C. 542 note; 8 U.S.C. 1551 note.

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2.  DOJ initially promulgated 8 CFR 235.3(b)(1)(i) as an exercise of the functions of the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review. See 62 FR 10312 (Mar. 6, 1997). Following enactment of the HSA, 8 CFR 235.3(b)(1)(i) was transferred to DHS, and effectively duplicated in parallel DOJ regulations at 8 CFR 1235.3(b)(1)(i). See 68 FR 10349 (Mar. 5, 2003). DOJ is revising its parallel regulation by separate rulemaking in this issue of the Federal Register.

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3.  In addition, in light of the lack of pre-publication notice and comment and a delayed effective date for the related notice that DHS has published in this issue of the Federal Register, a delay in the effective date of this regulation would be incongruous and unnecessary.

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[FR Doc. 2017-00915 Filed 1-13-17; 8:45 am]