Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced on Monday that migrants caught after crossing the border illegally will no longer be released into the interior of the country to await their immigration court date. If DHS follows through, this would effectively end the practice of catch-and-release and eliminate one of the pull factors driving the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the border.
Mr. McAleenan stated:
“DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol Stations into the interior. … This is a vital step in restoring the rule of law and integrity to our immigration system.”
More than 811,000 illegal border crossers have been apprehended at the southern border during the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, overwhelming Border Patrol officers, the immigration courts and the limited resources that Congress provides. Many have been released into the interior of the United States with notices to appear before an immigration judge at a future date.
President Trump campaigned to end catch-and-release throughout the 2016 campaign. After taking office, one of his first executive orders called for the end of the practice. The executive action — titled Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and signed on Jan. 25, 2017 — directed DHS to terminate the program along with other directives on detention and border security.
During the president’s first year in office, border apprehensions were low, so there wasn’t much attention on enforcement. But that all changed in 2018. Both chambers of Congress considered legislation that would have granted amnesty to DACA recipients, and talk of amnesty from Washington always leads to a surge of illegal border crossers.
The number of border apprehensions skyrocketed earlier this year, and under DHS policy, most illegal border crossers who didn’t pose a threat to public safety were released into the interior with a Notice to Appear. But with an immigration court backlog surpassing 1 million cases, it will be years before illegal border crossers appear before an immigration judge, allowing them to disappear into the interior. The administration has to take decisive action.
Ending catch-and-release is intended to complement the Migrant Protection Protocols that require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claim is adjudicated. DHS says that approximately 10 percent of all illegal border crossers claim asylum at the border. All others would be put into expedited removal proceedings and returned to their home countries.
Expedited removal was created in 1996, when Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Illegal aliens who have been in the country for fewer than 14 days and apprehended within 100 miles of the border can be quickly removed without going before an immigration judge.
Mr. McAleenan’s announcement is a critical step in diminishing the enticements and rewards of illegally entering the United States. Should the administration follow through, and if the new policy survives the legal challenges that are likely to come, it would go a long way in finally ending the border surge and cutting off the dangerous cartels who profit from the trafficking of unauthorized migration.
But there’s more that can be done to end the border crisis and to prevent future surges. Legal loopholes continue to be exploited, leading to fraudulent asylum claims and other abuses. Until Congress makes permanent legislative changes that strengthen the credible fear standard and reform the Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, we’ll continue to see surges along the southern border.
Furthermore, while ending the catch-and-release of most illegal border crossers is a step in the right direction, the fight to fix the country’s broken immigration enforcement system is still far from over.
In addition to closing the loopholes, Congress also needs to end the jobs magnet by requiring all employers to use the E-Verify system, and the administration needs to complete the congressionally-mandated biometric entry-exit system at all ports of entry to better track visa overstays. With those reforms, the federal government can once again earn the trust of the American people and deter most illegal immigration.
• Chris Chmielenski is deputy director of NumbersUSA.