Catch-and-release is alive and well under the Biden administration as 50,000 migrants who crossed the southern border illegally have been released into the U.S. without a court date. Though migrants are told to report to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement office after they are released from detention, only 13% have done so, Axios reported Tuesday.
The report comes as record numbers of migrants are seeking illegal entry into the United States. Southwest land border encounters have been steadily increasing since President Joe Biden assumed office in January, with 188,829 encounters reported in June, the highest number in decades.
According to Chief Patrol Agent Brian Hastings, who is in charge of border patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, border agents made 20,000 apprehensions in the area in just one week.
Between mid-March and mid-July, only 6,700 migrants who crossed the southern border followed instructions and showed up at ICE offices to obtain work permits. Data from the Department of Homeland Security shared with Axios indicates 16,000 migrants have not reported to ICE offices within the 60-day timeframe they were given.
Another estimated 27,000 migrants who were apprehended at the border and then released have yet to appear at an ICE office but still have time to do so before their 60 days are up. An official for DHS emphasized that nearly 70% of illegal immigrants are still within the 60-day window to appear at an ICE office, but that doesn't mean they'll show up.
"While individuals have 60 days to check in with ICE, many are proactively reaching out to ICE to begin their official immigration processing, including by receiving a Notice to Appear," said DHS spokesperson Meira Bernstein. "Those who do not report, like anyone who is in our country without legal status, are subject to removal by ICE."
Speaking to Axios, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said that as of Monday, 7,300 migrants in the Rio Grande Valley sector were released by the Biden administration without court dates. Cuellar, who has criticized the president for this "honor system" of releasing migrants without formal notices to appear in immigration court, said the total number of migrants released since March is up to 55,000.
The Biden administration has denied responsibility for the crisis at the southern border, shifting the blame to problems in Central America that are causing some migrants to leave their homes for a better life in the United States. But an internal Customs and Border Protection analysis reported in April said the overwhelming increase in migration is "largely attributable to perceptions of U.S. immigration policy changes, economic opportunities, elevated violence and reduced COVID-19 travel restrictions."
Since assuming office, Biden has sought to undo his predecessor's strict immigration policies. The Trump administration attempted to crack down on illegal immigration by ending policies like "catch and release," requiring migrants to remain in U.S. custody until their court dates. Biden reversed that policy, and others — including canceling construction of a wall on the southern border — in an attempt to appear more compassionate toward the plight of migrants.
But critics say Biden's lax immigration policies have incentivized illegal immigration, exacerbating problems related to drugs, human trafficking, and violence that stem from criminal elements taking advantage of people traveling to the United States.
"There is a complete breakdown on the border. This is the result of not implementing common-sense solutions or implementing them too late," said former acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. "This is much worse than catch and release."