Department of Homeland Security Effectively Ending ‘Catch and Release’ of Illegal Migrants

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies in Washington, D.C., May 23, 2019. (James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that a combination of restrictive immigration policies has effectively concluded the status quo “catch and release” system that prevailed under the Obama administration.

Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan explained during a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations that the vast majority of migrant families who enter the country illegally will no longer be eligible for “catch and release” due to the implementation of policies such as the “Migrant Protection Protocols,” which require that migrants wait in Mexico while their asylum claims are being adjudicated, and extended migrant detentions periods.

“With some humanitarian and medical exceptions, DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol Stations into the interior,” McAleenan said Tuesday. “This means that for family units, the largest demographic by volume arriving at the border this year, the court-mandated practice of catch and release, due to the inability of DHS to complete immigration proceedings with families detained together in custody, will have been mitigated. This is a vital step in restoring the rule of law and integrity to our immigration system.”

The Trump administration has taken various steps in recent months to eliminate so-called “pull” factors that incentivize illegal immigration. In addition to implementing the Migrant Protection Protocols, the administration has also established licensing agreements with family residential centers that will allow authorities to detain family units for longer than the 20 days prescribed by the Flores agreement.

Beginning next week, the administration will officially transition to returning virtually all migrants to Mexico “swiftly” if they are unable to establish a credible fear of returning to their home country.

McAleenan said last month that border crossings have declined 43 percent since May, when arrests between ports of entry at the southern border increased for the fourth straight month to 132,887, up from 99,304 arrests in April.

In April, the White House requested $4.5 billion in emergency funds from Congress to deal with the increasing flow number of migrants illegally crossing the southwest border. Agencies warned earlier this year that they are overwhelmed by the influx of migrants turning up both at ports of entry and between them.

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