75 percent of apprehensions get ‘catch-and-release’

Illegal immigration across the southwest border rose again in April, continuing a surge that has entirely erased President Trump’s early gains and left officials in Washington struggling over answers.

Nearly 39,000 illegal immigrants were nabbed by the Border Patrol last month, according to preliminary numbers seen by The Washington Times. That’s a staggering 233 percent increase over the same month a year ago — the biggest year-over-year increase in records dating back to the beginning of the decade.

Experts said the increase is being driven by lax U.S. policies that illegal immigrants have figured out ways to exploit, meaning that even if they’re caught they’re likely to be released and have a chance to disappear into the shadows.

Dubbed “catch-and-release,” those policies continue to bedevil the Border Patrol agents responsible for protecting the southern border.

“The reason is obvious: If you can cross the border illegally without any consequence, why not. As long as the catch-and-release policy-program exists, large numbers of people are going to cross the border illegally,” said Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.

Mr. Judd estimated a staggering three-quarters of migrants agents nab at the border are eventually released into the country under catch-and-release policies.

That means that of the nearly 39,000 agents arrested last month, perhaps 30,000 will be set free.

The numbers are all the more stunning because they represent such a reversal from last year when Mr. Trump was overseeing the biggest drop in illegal immigration in history. The rate of illegal crossers had dropped to four-decade lows by April 2017.

“In 2017 and due to the rhetoric, we had fewer apprehensions than any year in the past 45 years,” Mr. Judd said. “It was simply because people believed that if they crossed the border illegally they would be held until their deportation hearing.”

But, he added, that didn’t end up happening.

“Smugglers quickly realized everything was status quo, and they’re once again recruiting people to enter our country illegally,” he said.

Administration officials have acknowledged the problems. They say they’ve ended “administrative catch-and-release,” which means they no longer have an official policy calling for some classes of illegal immigrants to be released automatically.

But they said a lack of detention bed space and demands set by federal courts still force catch-and-release for many illegal immigrants.

For example, in the case of a mother and child caught at the border, a court order generally limits Homeland Security to 20 days’ detention. That’s usually too short a time to complete their deportation case, so they are released with the hope they return for their deportation hearings later. That hope is often frustrated.

Vice President Mike Pence, visiting the border this week, said Congress needs to step up to fix the matter.

“Whether it be the catch-and-release program or asylum policies that don’t require people to stay in the first safe country in which they arrive, we’re calling on Congress to work with us to bring about change,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen echoed that call in testimony to Congress last week, where she pleaded for Congress to write laws giving her department the ability to hold people.

“If you have an alarm in your home and you catch a burglar and you call the police and the police come, and in fact it is an illegal entry into your home,” she said. “But the police then tell you that they have absolutely no ability to detain or remove those criminals and the criminals stay in your house, you would not tell me that is home security. That is what we face at the border.

“We stop people, we interdict them, but we do not have the authority given the loopholes in many cases to detain and remove them,” she said. “We are forced to release them back into the communities after they have committed crimes.”