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Trump administration set to end ‘catch and release’ immigration policy next week

Then-CBP Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan. (CBP/Released)
September 25, 2019

In a Monday announcement, Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan called for new immigration policies to that will precipitate the end of “catch and release” immigration policies.

In a press release, McAleenan said the DHS will end policies that allow migrant families to be released into the United States interior while they await immigration trials, as part of President Donald Trump’s overall efforts to end the “pull factors” that entice illegal immigration.

“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,” McAleenan said. “This is a vital step in restoring the rule of law and integrity to our immigration system.”

“We recognize that one of the biggest contributing factors to this crisis is an issue we face domestically—and that is the weaknesses in our legal immigration framework,” McAleenan said Monday in remarks before the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which coincided with the DHS announcement.

The “catch and release” policy has been a major target of Trump’s criticism of existing U.S. immigration policies. In comments reported by Fox News during a June Senate hearing, McAleenan echoed concerns about “catch and release” and said 90 percent of migrants skipped their court date after being released, according to a DHS pilot program to keep track of released family units.

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The end of “catch and release” is also meant to coincide with new Migrant Protection Protocols that handle asylum claims.

“If migrant family units do not claim fear of return, they will be quickly returned to their country of origin, in close collaboration with Central American countries. If they do claim fear, they will generally be returned to Mexico,” the release explained.

The press release went on to say the DHS would implement new tools that “ensure effective immigration results without releasing family units into the U.S. interior” and implement “the Flores final rule” which will allow the DHS to detain migrant families together long enough for their immigration proceedings to take place.

McAleenan became the acting head of the DHS in April of this year. Trump announced McAleenan’s appointment shortly after he announced then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen would be vacating her position. It was not immediately clear if Nielsen was fired or if she resigned.

In his comments before the CFR, McAleenan said he became the acting Homeland Security Secretary before the height of an immigration crisis in May.

In May, border officials saw encountered 144,000 at the Southern border, including 58,000 border crossings in a single 24-hour period. Officials also saw 1,036 migrants, the largest single group ever apprehended,  attempting to cross in the El Paso border sector. Of those May apprehensions, some 72 percent were for unaccompanied children and family units.

“Today, I am pleased to report that daily arrivals are down 64 percent from the peak in May, and total enforcement actions for Central Americans arriving at the border have been reduced by over 70 percent,” he said.