The Border Patrol will have to restart a policy of catch-and-release at the border, the top border officer said Wednesday, saying there’s not enough bed space to hold them and, under the law, they can’t be immediately sent back.
Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said things have gotten so bad that more than 100,000 illegal immigrants will be nabbed at the border in March alone. Those are levels that haven’t been seen in more than a decade, and the current situation is worse because the migrants are exploiting loopholes that make it almost impossible to oust them, Mr. McAleenan said.
He said that means that the Border Patrol will, for the first time since the Bush administration, actually be directly releasing illegal immigrants into the communities — a policy agents call “catch-and-release,” and which they consider an embarrassing black mark on their duties.
“For the first time in over a decade, CBP is performing direct releases of migrants,” he told reporters in a press conference at the border fence in El Paso, Texas.
Mr. McAleenan said the surge of illegal immigrants is so big, and they are seeing so many sick people, that in some areas 40 percent of Border Patrol agents’ time is being spent driving illegal immigrants to and from processing centers, taking them to clinics or babysitting them while they undergo care.
That takes them off the border, where they’re no longer able to patrol, he said.
He announced a stopgap solution of pulling 750 officers from the ports of entry, where they scan legal traffic for contraband drugs and smuggled people, and deploying them to help the Border Patrol care for migrants. He said that should get agents back on the line, but it will mean rougher times at the legal crossings.
“That breaking point has arrived this week at our border,” Mr. McAleenan said.
Restarting catch-and-release is a devastating admission for the Border Patrol.
President Trump has repeatedly bragged that he ended the practice.
Yet Homeland Security officials have said it’s quietly been ramping up in recent months as the numbers at the border have surged.