- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

In August, the White House famously proclaimed an end to the “catch and release” federal immigration policy of freeing arrested illegal aliens after some perfunctory paperwork. The policy was roundly and rightly criticized by members of both parties and citizens around the country for fostering disregard for federal immigration law. We now have some troubling new information about “catch and release.” It remains troubling seven months after the announced end of the policy because the Bush administration never adequately demonstrated that it actually ended. Proving this would be a tall task indeed, since the huge federal immigration manpower and facilities boosts which would be needed to truly fix the problem simply haven’t occurred.

In 2005, according to newly released Department of Justice documents, the rule of thumb among federal prosecutors in Texas (and in all likelihood elsewhere) was to decline to bring criminal charges until the sixth offense. For reasons pertaining to the well-documented “lack of resources and bed space to detain and prosecute every illegal entry violator,” authorities decided that six offenses would be the threshold, after which law-enforcement proceedings would finally begin. This policy presumably continued through the first part of 2006, although if the White House is to be believed, it was discontinued in August. This revelation is among thousands of pages of documents delivered to Congress in recent weeks.

The fact that we even know these details now is an unintended consequence of an unrelated political fight on Capitol Hill. The information emerged from documents which the Bush administration ordered released in its efforts to stem controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys which administration critics contend were “politically motivated.” The documents contain (among other things) law-enforcement data from places such as U.S. Attorney’s offices in California, Arizona and Texas.

If the administration had backed up its August pledge with verifiable facts on the end of “catch and release,” this would be chiefly of historical interest — a demonstration of what a dysfunctional immigration policy looks like from the vantage point of the local U.S. attorney’s office. But it’s never been clear whether or how “catch and release” ended — nor that it even can end, apart from a sea change in the approach of and resources allocated to the federal authorities involved.

Asked by the Houston Chronicle last week to comment on the revelations, a Department of Justice spokesman noted that 30 new prosecutors have been sent to districts along the Southwest border last year.

Pardon the baseball analogy, but with “Six strikes and you’re out,” anyone can get on base. Thirty new prosecutors across four border states could hardly change that.

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