- Title: Trump's plan to halt "catch and release" of migrants could hit a wall
- Date: 27th January 2017
- Summary: GUADALUPE, CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO (RECENT) (REUTERS) MEXICAN BORDER OFFICIALS ON DUTY CROSSING POINT NEAR BORDER OFFICERS WITH REUTERS JOURNALIST SIGN NEAR CROSSING POINTING IN THE DIRECTION OF THE USA MORE OF OFFICERS NEAR BORDER SIGN DIRECTING LOADED TRUCKS NEAR BORDER MORE OF PATROL OFFICERS LOOKING AT BORDER WALL
- Embargoed: 10th February 2017 03:14
- Keywords: immigration border wall USA President Donald Trump Honduras Central America Texas Mexico
- Location: TORNILLO, EL PASO, TEXAS, USA / AGUA CALIENTE, HONDURAS / GUADALUPE, CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO
- City: TORNILLO, EL PASO, TEXAS, USA / AGUA CALIENTE, HONDURAS / GUADALUPE, CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO
- Country: USA
- Topics: Asylum/Immigration/Refugees,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00360PZJUV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:President Donald Trump's plan to end the policy of "catch and release" - where illegal immigrants are caught and then freed pending hearings - could hit a wall, immigrant advocates warn, and not the one he is planning to build on the Mexican border.
Border patrol officials have noticed a trend of Central American migrants turning themselves into US officials when they cross overland from Mexico in the hope that they may stay on in the United States.
Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, a Roman Catholic charity in El Paso, Texas, that gives shelter to migrant families, told Reuters no border wall will stop this.
"All the border walls are not going to stop people walking right into ports of entry and turning themselves in so I'm not sure," he said.
Garcia's group typically receives hundreds of migrants weekly after they are released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
He told Reuters that the time frame between when they are detained and then released can be pretty lengthy.
"The timeframe between when someone presents themselves and asks for asylum and when you have an answer to that question that time frame can be pretty lengthy," added Garcia.
That underscores one potential problem of ending the practice of "catch and release" - almost half the immigrants apprehended by U.S. officials are now Central American families or children, and only a tiny number of detention spaces are available for those categories of immigrants.
Trump did announce plans to increase the number of family detention centres, but establishing them will take time and could face legal challenges, legal experts on immigration said.
Salvadoran migrant Eric Trejo also said that millions of migrants make up the backbone of US manual labour, and so deporting such a large number of the productive workforce will damage the American economy, he pointed out.
"With Donald Trump, just how is he going to deport so many migrants when the number of migrants is hardly anything (compared to the rest of the country). Just see how we Latinos work. What I say is that if you want to deport them, I don't know how many millions who are undocumented, then the country will collapse," said Trejo.
Because most of the families are from Central America, they cannot immediately be turned around and sent back to Mexico. Many of them start their journey in Agua Caliente in Honduras. Recently Cubans have also joined Central Americans seeking passage north to the United States.
A Reuters review of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol data shows an accelerating trend of Central American families who hand themselves in at the border and are released while awaiting deportation or a decision on an asylum request.
In the last three months of 2016, the number of people - almost all of them families and children - who handed themselves in to agents along the U.S.-Mexican border rose by a quarter versus the same period the year before, CBP data shows.
Agents apprehended a total of 136,670 people crossing the Mexican border, the highest number since 2008, and 48 percent of those were unaccompanied children or families with children.
"We have seen somewhat of a change than in the past. It was always them trying to avoid being apprehended to them now turning themselves in, they want to be apprehended," said Texas border patrol officer, Jose Romer.
Many Central American migrants end up requesting asylum, a process that can take five or more years to be resolved, immigration lawyers say. Even without requesting asylum, it can take years to deport families through the United States' bunged-up immigration courts.
Border Patrol Officer Erika King said that many migrants are lied to by smugglers over their acceptance into the United States.
"As far as they just come in, they don't care if they get wet, they don't care if they're in danger, they just want to come to the United States. They get lied to by the smugglers and they don't know how dangerous it actually is to come in," she said.
Trump could expand a policy practiced under former President Barack Obama of using military bases to temporarily house more immigrants. The Fort Bliss base in El Paso has housed thousands of children since September, for example.
He could also explore ways to refit other existing facilities to help handle the flood of families.
In the long term, he could ask Mexico to let immigrants make the asylum claims from there, although ties between the two countries are now seriously frayed because of Trump's vow to force Mexico to pay for a wall on the southern U.S. border.
A fence partly exists along sections of the US-Mexico border but ends abruptly in many parts.
Last February, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Obama's secretary of commerce, Penny Pritzker, opened a major new border crossing from Tornillo on the Texan side, to Guadalupe on the Mexican side, hoping to boost trade between the countries.
By November, truck traffic was still light across the bridge.
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