U.S. border agents have been authorized to release migrants detained at the southern border before scheduling an appearance in court, multiple outlets reported.
Border Patrol agents have already begun releasing illegal immigrants who claim asylum without issuing a “notice to appear” (NTA), which includes details about the hearing at which a court determines whether to process a migrant’s asylum claim. The directive applies to adult migrants and families, while unaccompanied minors are given court dates.
The border crisis has “become so dire that BP has no choice but to release people nearly immediately after apprehension because there is no space to hold people even to do necessary NTA paperwork,” a senior Border Patrol source told Fox News on Sunday. The process of receiving an NTA generally takes several hours.
The decision is “intended to mitigate operational challenges, including risks to national security, during significant surges of illegal migration as currently exist in the Rio Grande Valley,” according to an internal document obtained by NBC News on Monday.
Migrants who were not given an NTA instead received identification documents and were told to show those documents to local sheriffs if necessary, migrants told NBC. Some of those migrants said they were not asked for contact information, and it is not clear how U.S. government agencies will reach out to them.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has said its agents encountered 100,000 migrants making illegal crossings in February, up 28 percent from January. Border agents have also recorded a surge in the number of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
Photos shared by Representative Henry Cuellar (D., Texas) with Axios on Monday showed an overcrowded shelter for migrant children. Border Patrol agents are “doing the best they can under the circumstances” but are “not equipped to care for kids,” Cuellar said.