Desert Invasion - U.S.


U.S. Policy Lets Illegal Immigrants Go

HARLINGEN, Texas - Several times a day, a chain-link gate rolls open and dozens of illegal immigrants stroll out of the U.S. Border Patrol station here, blinking into the hot Texas sun as they look for taxis to the bus station and a ticket out of town.

Each holds a piece of paper that Spanish-speakers call a "permiso" — permission, courtesy of the U.S. government, to roam freely anywhere in the country.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than 118,000 undocumented [illegal criminal] migrants who were caught after sneaking over the nation's borders have walked right out of custody with a permiso in hand.

They were from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil. But also Afghanistan,
Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, Yemen — among 35 countries of "special interest" because of alleged sponsorship or support of terrorism.

These are the so-called OTM, or "Other Than Mexican," migrants too far from their homelands to be shipped right back. More than 70,000 have hit U.S. streets just since this past October.

The Border Patrol is catching them — hundreds each day, riding inner tubes across the Rio Grande, trekking through farm fields and across deserts. But the government has no place to put all the "OTMs" while they await deportation hearings, so they are released with a notice to appear in immigration court....

The rate of release is increasing. In the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2001, 5,251 non-Mexicans were freed on their own recognizance from Border Patrol custody, according to statistics the agency provided. In fiscal year 2002, that rose to 5,725. Fiscal 2003: 7,972. Fiscal 2004: 34,161.

Last year's number included at least 91 illegal immigrants from "special-interest" countries.

Releases have soared again this year. With four months still left in the fiscal cycle, 70,624 OTMs have been released on their own recognizance — or 70 percent of all non-Mexicans apprehended by the Border Patrol. That includes 50 undocumented migrants from "special-interest" countries, Border Patrol spokesman Salvador Zamora says....

Of the 834,731 apprehensions made by the Border Patrol so far this fiscal year, 100,142 were non-Mexican arrests. That's a 137 percent increase from the 42,167 non-Mexicans arrested in year leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks....

"Catch and release," the arrangement is commonly called.

Nowhere is it happening more frequently than in the Rio Grande Valley at the southernmost tip of Texas. Here, 91 percent of non-Mexicans who are caught are quickly released, statistics show.

Most of those arrested in the region are from Brazil, Honduras and El Salvador, though the number of Chinese is rising — from about 50 arrests in fiscal 2003 to more than 700 so far this year, according to internal Border Patrol statistics obtained by The Associated Press.

Arrests of illegal immigrants from "special-interest" countries such as Eritrea, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iran and Iraq doubled in the region from two dozen in fiscal 2003 to about four dozen in fiscal 2004, the internal figures show. Nationally, Zamora says, 644 migrants from "special-interest" countries were apprehended by Border Patrol in fiscal 2004; more than 450 have been nabbed so far this fiscal year....

Statistics provided in a letter from the Department of Homeland Security to U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz (news, bio, voting record), D-Texas, showed releases of "special-interest" migrants had increased significantly — from at least 60 freed on their own recognizance in fiscal 2002 to at least 381 in fiscal 2004. The letter specifically responded to Ortiz's request for statistics involving illegal immigrants who had been arrested by the Border Patrol....

ICE estimates a cumulative 465,000 undocumented immigrants — visa overstays, illegal entrants and others unlawfully in the States — have received final orders of removal but remain at-large....

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