The flood of immigrants illegally crossing into the U.S. from Mexico has forced the Trump administration to expand the practice of catch and release.
What's the story?
For many years, prior to the Trump administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents would "catch and release" some portion of illegal immigrants who were caught at the border and could not be quickly processed through the deportation appeals process. The Trump administration attempted to end the practice after President Donald Trump tweeted last fall that it would institute a new "catch and detain" policy.
However, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled last summer that separated families were to be reunited and that family units arriving at the border could no longer be separated. Also, immigrant minors could be held no longer than 20 days which means adults with children would also be released at the same time.
Since Sabraw's ruling, family units increased to the point where CBP would detain them for up to 72 hours and let them go.
The number of families has overwhelmed detention centers that weren't designed to hold family units or children. In the past, the majority of border crossings were single adults.
Now, there's no space to hold immigrants so border agents are turning them loose on the spot.
"Law enforcement doesn't have the resources to process and detain the crushing influx of migrants arriving at the border. As a result, they are directly releasing migrants into the United States – catch and release," House Homeland Security ranking member Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said in a statement Monday, the Washington Examiner reported. "Without Congressional action, the situation on the ground poses a serious threat to human life and national security."
Last week, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan urged Congress to take action and provide immediate funding and resources for the "unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis all along our Southwest border," adding that the agency would record more than 100,000 apprehensions in March.
The number of illegal crossings last month reached the highest total in a decade. The agency has reached its "breaking point," McAleenan told reporters.
More than 55,000 of those apprehended in March arrived in the U.S. as family units, which must be handled differently than adults traveling on their own.
In El Paso, Texas, the churches, shelters and other organizations have reached capacity and are struggling to feed and house the families they've received. Sick children and infants have created another layer of urgency to the crisis.
Officials recently started busing thousands of immigrants to cities hundreds of miles inland where they are released at churches and bus stations as far away as San Antonio and Albuquerque, New Mexico, among others.
"We're asking volunteer doctors and nurses and community members to step up and do what the government should be doing. If this was a hurricane, FEMA would be on the ground helping," Jim Gannon, CEO and executive director of Catholic Charities in Albuquerque, told the Associated Press.
The lack of action from Congress has left authorities with no choice except to release the families into the U.S., according to officials.
"The numbers are overwhelming right now," Gregory Archambault, ICE director of enforcement and removal operations in San Diego, told the AP. "Everybody is stressed. The agency is stressed, the [local governments] are stressed, the law enforcement agencies. Everybody is stressed because there are these mass numbers of people."
Authorities have released more than 125,000 people since Dec. 21.