- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Almost all of the illegal immigrant families traveling from Central America to the U.S. are being released from the special facility meant to hold them in New Mexico, according to the mayor of the town where the special facility is located.

Mayor Phillip S. Burch told KSVP radio in Artesia, New Mexico, last week that the releases defy Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s own pledge in July to make sure those who ended up at the facility were quickly deported from the U.S.

Instead, of 82 illegal immigrants released in one week earlier this month, 77 were let go into the U.S., and just five were deported, Mr. Burch said, citing numbers from his weekly briefing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials who run the facility.

“That seems like the way the numbers have gone over the past 6 weeks,” the mayor said in the radio interview. “The past six weeks [have seen] a 95 percent release rate.”

“I keep thinking of Secretary Johnson’s comments when he visited here in July, when it was first starting to get going. He described Artesia as going to be a ‘rapid deportation’ site,” Mr. Burch said. “Now you have a 95 percent rate of release, which says to me this isn’t happening just by accident — that this administration plans to basically do a big amnesty announcement, and so, yeah, get ‘em all released in here, and they’ll all get amnesty, and they’ll all stay.”

ICE officials said any decisions on releases are made by the judges at the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

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From July 18 through Oct. 21, EOIR received 14,691 cases of adults with children who were released on alternatives to detention, nearly 12,600 had been through their first immigration hearings, and decisions have been made in 3,846 cases.

Meanwhile, EOIR received 12,152 cases of children traveling without their parents, referred to by the government as unaccompanied alien children. Most have had their initial hearings, and the judges reached decisions in 1,758 cases during those months.

ICE officials on Tuesday announced plans to shutter the Artesia facility, which is one of three that currently houses illegal immigrant families. They are planning a new facility in Dilley, Texas, that could eventually house up to 2,400 parents and children.

Before this summer’s surge, ICE had fewer than 100 beds for families, meaning most Central American illegal immigrants traveling as a family unit were released into the U.S. as alternatives to detention, with the hope that they returned for their deportation hearings.

About 450 individuals are still in Artesia, and they will be screened to determine who should be kept in custody, ICE said.

“ICE opened the temporary facility in Artesia in June as a critical piece of the government’s response to the unprecedented influx of adults with children at the Southwest border. Since then, the numbers of illegal migrants crossing into south Texas have gone down considerably,” said Thomas S. Winkowski, acting director of ICE.

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At the time the Artesia facility was opened, Mr. Johnson said the goal was to hold illegal immigrants and deport them quickly, hoping to send a message back to Central America that coming to the U.S. wouldn’t result in a free pass, or “permiso,” as those in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador called it.

Illegal immigrant children traveling alone, however, were not detained. Instead, under the Obama administration’s interpretation of U.S. law, they were sent to live in special housing or, more often, with relatives already in the U.S. — many of them also likely here illegally.

The latest numbers suggest that Homeland Security officials did have success in halting much of the flow across the border.

In July, 7,436 family units were caught at the southwest border. That dropped to 3,286 in August, 2,303 in September and just 2,163 in October.

Illegal immigrant children caught along the border traveling alone dropped from 10,508 in June to 2,414 in September before ticking back up again in October to 2,529.

But handling the illegal immigrant children and families once they are in the U.S. has been more of a challenge.

The Artesia facility has reported problems with communicable diseases — cases of chicken pox shut the facility down over the summer — and with sanitation after some of the families had difficulty figuring out how to use the toilets, according to an inspector general’s report.

More broadly, the government has struggled to deport the illegal immigrants, trying to weigh potential legal claims for asylum versus the need to stem a larger flow of illegal immigrants.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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