DHS Acting Secretary Announces End to ‘Catch and Release’

During a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) this week, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Kevin K. McAleenan announced that the department is effectively ending the “catch and release” policy for Central American families arriving at the Southern border. Acting Secretary McAleenan named the policy’s ending as part of the Trump Administration’s strategy to reduce “pull factors” that encourage families to cross the border illegally.

Acting Secretary McAleenan reported to CFR that daily arrivals over the southern border are down 64 percent, total enforcement action for Central Americans arriving through the border has been reduced by over 70 percent, and conditions and care at border facilities have “dramatically improved.”

As a result, McAleenan explains, “With some humanitarian and medical exceptions, DHS will no longer be releasing family units from Border Patrol Stations into the interior.  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.”

In a release, DHS confirmed that migrant family units who do not fear return will be quickly returned to their country of origin. Migrant family units who do claim fear if returned to their country of origin will generally be brought to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP).

Acting Secretary McAleenan attributed the increase in individuals crossing the border illegally in the last few years to “push factors” relating to economic opportunity, poverty and food insecurity, and continued high-levels of violence in some areas of Central America.

McAleenan named economic opportunity gaps as the single most important push factor.

“Job creation has not been able to keep up with labor growth in Central America resulting in a stark opportunity shortage—with only 1/5th of the needed jobs being created every year for the number of young people entering the workforce in the Northern Triangle,” McAleenan explained at CFR.

The new DHS strategy to combat these push factors includes:

  • Disrupting smuggling activity and reducing the unprecedented flow;
  • Changing the way DHS processes that flow to create greater integrity in the system by achieving immigration results that can be effectuated at the border without release into the United States;
  • And at the same time, DHS will seek to urgently mitigate the humanitarian situation by providing enhanced care for arriving migrants once they crossed into the United States.

Acting Secretary McAleenan concluded by encouraging Congress, state and local partners, and neighboring countries to work together to “expand the dialogue and work on solution together” to immigration related issues.

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