San Diego Union Tribune

June 8, 2005

Senators push U.S. to stop releasing illegal immigrants
Border crossers don't fear arrest, ex-prosecutor says

By Jerry Kammer

WASHINGTON – Expressing alarm at the rapidly increasing number of illegal immigrants from countries beyond Mexico, three U.S. senators pressed federal officials yesterday to halt the Border Patrol practice of regularly releasing thousands of such immigrants.

"Tell me what we can do and what it would cost," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a former federal prosecutor who compared the tide of mostly Central and South American illegal immigrants to the boldness of drug dealers who don't fear arrest.

"There is a tipping point," Sessions said. The word is out, he said, that migrants who pass through Mexico to enter the United States illegally need not fear the Border Patrol.

Most of the nearly 90,000 non-Mexicans detained on the southern border since Oct. 1 came from Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. And because of a lack of space to hold them for deportation, most were given a court date for a hearing and released.

During a hearing of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee yesterday, Sessions read excerpts from a Copley News Service story published Saturday in The San Diego Union-Tribune that disclosed that 98 percent of the non-Mexicans released pending an immigration hearing in Harlingen, Texas, last year failed to appear.

Instead, they disappeared into the United States and became part of its population of illegal immigrants, now estimated at a record 12 million.

Sessions wanted to know what the government intended to do.

"Is somebody working on this? That's all I'm asking," he said. "I mean, is somebody in charge here? . . . Do you have a vision that would indicate that this utter failure would end and we'll have a system that has integrity?"

Wesley Lee, the acting director of Detention and Removal for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said there "is a vision, and it's already started."

Lee and Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar cited a program of "expedited removal" that puts illegal immigrants on a fast track for deportation.

But the Border Patrol effort, launched nine months ago in the Tucson and Laredo, Texas, sectors, has not been duplicated elsewhere along the southern border.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., pressed Aguilar for a timetable to extend expedited removal to all nine Border Patrol sectors along the Mexican border.

"It's coming soon, Senator," said Aguilar, adding that the program requires both extensive training and detention spaces for the 26 days it takes on average to complete deportation.

"Are we talking about a matter of months?" Kyl asked.

"I would feel comfortable with that, if (the Department of Homeland Security) approves it and everything else," Aguilar said.

After the hearing, Kyl said he was "surprised and disappointed" that expedited removal had not yet been expanded beyond Tucson and Laredo.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the border situation is "unacceptable and needs to change." Citing concern that terrorists could use the illegal migration to infiltrate the United States, he said Congress must supply the necessary funding to stem the flow.

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