Illegal entry by non-Mexicans rises - Those coming from Brazil, Central America, and 'countries of concern' could hit 150,000 this year

Article by Chris Axtman, Christian Science Monitor, July 26, 2005

After decades of attempting to dam the flow of Mexican immigrants crossing into the United States illegally, federal agents say a new crisis is emerging along the southern border and they are helpless to stop it.

Non-Mexicans are spilling over the border in record numbers - some from countries with terrorist ties - and most are set free soon after being captured.

Already this year, the number of non-Mexican apprehensions has far outpaced last year's total in just eight months....

Because OTMs, or "Other Than Mexicans" as the Border Patrol classifies them, must be returned to their country of origin, they cannot be simply sent back across the southern border, as most Mexicans are. Under US law, they must be detained (in the US) pending a deportation hearing. The problem is, immigration detention centers are packed, so most OTMs are given a court summons and told to return in three months. A full 85 percent don't.

According to the Border Patrol, some 465,000 OTMs have taken advantage of this "catch and release" policy to settle here in the US. "It's an insane policy which encourages OTMs to come into the country illegally, and we shouldn't be shocked that they are coming in record numbers," says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents more than 9,000 agents.

In fact, he says, after crossing the border, many OTMs flag down agents or walk up to them and surrender, knowing they will be released. "The word is out," says Mr. Bonner. "They know that as soon as they are caught, they will be free to roam at will."

In a hearing in the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security earlier this month, Border Patrol Chief David Aguilar said his agency has apprehended 919,000 illegal immigrants so far this year - 119,000 of whom were OTMs....

"We are not protecting Americans against the next terrorist attack," says Michael Cutler, a former special agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington. "There are so many holes in the system."

He points to the OTM loophole as one example. Another is the Visa Waiver Program, which allows residents from 28 countries, including Canada, to enter the US without getting a visa in their home country....

Border Patrol agents, [says former INS agent Bonner], know that most OTMs have no intention of returning for the court hearing - and that is incredibly frustrating for them. "It's more than a little demoralizing," he says. "They feel like social workers. They are not enforcing the law; they are simply enabling people to break it - and that goes against the grain of any law enforcement officer."

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