Catch and Release

POLIZETTE — Between 40 percent and 55 percent of illegal immigrants from Mexico who get released with orders to appear at a court hearing never show, a high-ranking immigration official admitted Thursday.

Ronald Vitiello, acting chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, testified at a Senate hearing that Mexicans apprehended at the border — if they clear a criminal background check — are given an option of voluntarily returning to their country. If they opt against that, they have a right to an administrative hearing.

But many never show for those hearings and already are living in the United States, relatively free from the possibility that they will be tracked down. Thomas Homan, executive associate director of enforcement and removal for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, offered a 40-55 percent estimate in response to a question from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).

“This is pretty much a mockery of the system,” said Sessions, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest. “That erodes the deterrence impact of the enforcement strategy.”

Brandon Judd, a border agent and representative of the American Federation of Government Employees, agreed. He testified that it is part of a “catch-and-release” policy that encourages further illegal immigration.

“Unfortunately, those NTAs [notices to appear] are completely and totally ignored,” he said.

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