Accessibility links

Breaking News

US Border Patrol Tightens Catch-and-Release Policy

The U.S. Border Patrol has announced a change in the so-called catch-and-release-policy, whereby illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico, captured at the U.S.-Mexico border were automatically released to await a court hearing. Very few ever show up for their court hearing and disappear into the underground of illegal workers in the United States.

Under the new rules, Border Patrol agents near the frontier with Mexico will detain illegal entrants from countries other than Mexico, so-called OTMs, and hold them until their court hearing. Mexicans are routinely sent right back across the border.

In recent months Border Patrol agents have seen a dramatic increase in OTM crossings, especially along the border here in Texas. Most of the OTM illegal immigrants would simply sit down and await processing by the Border Patrol after crossing over the Rio Grande river, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. They would then be issued a notice to appear in court, but most moved on to take jobs in cities far from the border and never showed up for their court hearing. Under the new rules, these illegal aliens will be detained until they can be processed, unless they make it 100 miles, 160 kilometers, north of the border. In that case, they will be released with the notice to appear in court.

Susan Tully, National Field Director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, known as FAIR, says human smugglers, known as coyotes, will help illegal immigrants make a mockery of this new policy.

"What I see happening now is that they will just pay coyotes to take them that 100-miles (160 kilometers) farther in that they need to be," Ms. Tully says. "So I think catch-and-release is the wrong thing to do, no matter what the location is, and it should be stopped completely."

Ms. Tully notes that many of the OTM immigrants detained in recent months came from Middle Eastern countries that have been linked to terrorism. She says U.S. security depends on stricter enforcement of immigration laws.

Border Patrol spokesman Sal Zamora says agents give special scrutiny to immigrants who come from what are called "countries of interest," that is, nations accused of sponsoring terrorism. He says no one from one of these countries is released without a thorough background check by law enforcement agencies.

As for the new policy, Mr. Zamora says it is simply a way of freeing up space in detention centers through a policy called "expedited removal." He says agents never had a policy they called "catch and release." He says they only released illegal entrants from countries other than Mexico because of a lack of space in detention centers to hold people for three months or longer. Now, Mr. Zamora says, a detainee faces a much faster process.

"He is detained for a period of about 30 days, at which time travel documents are secured, at which time the host [home] country is ready to receive him and they are deported physically out of the United States, whereas before, in a non-expedited removal process, the period of detention was 90 days,." Mr. Zamora says.

This expedited process has freed up space at detention centers and allowed agents to detain all OTM immigrants to await a hearing, rather than letting them go with a piece of paper.

Mr. Zamora says he doubts smugglers will have much success getting around the rules by taking people farther into the United States, and he says the new expedited removal procedure has already proved its effectiveness. He says apprehensions of Brazilians in the lower Rio Grande valley has dropped from about 200-a-day to around five. Brazilians constituted one of the largest segments of the illegal crossing population in the last year, partly because of a soap opera in Brazil that portrayed immigration to the United States as an adventure and partly because of a Mexican policy of allowing Brazilians to come to Mexico without a visa. That policy has now changed, reducing the number of Brazilians entering Mexico with the goal of crossing the U.S. border.

Department of Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff promised last month to eventually have a system in which all illegal entrants are quickly deported, but he gave no timetable for implementing the policy.