The president of a labor organization representing Border Patrol employees and a Texas congressman are criticizing the House’s recently passed Homeland Security bill for failing to fund construction of new detention facilities to hold illegal border-crossers from countries other than Mexico, resulting in their automatic release pending a later hearing date.
HR 1817, the Department of Homeland Security authorization bill passed last Wednesday by the House, approved adding 2,000 new Border Patrol agents, but this is not enough, says T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing 10,000 non-supervisory U.S. Border Patrol employees.
“It doesn’t matter how many Border Patrol agents we have out there. … The attraction (to illegally enter the U.S.) is the fact that we are giving them a piece of paper (notice to appear for a deportation hearing) that allows them to come into the country and they are coming in record of numbers,” Bonner tells the Brownsville Herald.
The Texas-Mexico border between Brownsville and Corpus Christi has become a major transit area for OTMs – “other than Mexicans,” according to the Border Patrol. In the last two months, over 200 Brazilians have been arrested in the Rio Grande Valley.
According to U.S. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas, immigrants from 70 to 80 countries pass through the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector.
When illegals are apprehended, they are offered the option of being deported or appearing for a deportation hearing. While most Mexicans opt to be sent back to their country, OTMS must be held until their hearing, or must be released if there is no space to hold them. Currently, most are released on their own recognizance and promise to appear. Officials report about 90 percent of those disappear in the process – a number now estimated to be approaching 75,000, according to Ortiz whose congressional district includes the Rio Grande Valley Sector.
Of 19,000 OTMs apprehended in the U.S. during the first half of the fiscal year, about 40 percent were caught in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, the Border Patrol reports.
“Until you build a detention facility, you won’t be able to send signals that they are going to be apprehended, they are going to be detained and they are going to be able to go before a judge,” Ortiz says.
“They are going to continue to come in because they know they are going to be turned loose.”
Ortiz worked closely with U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., to amend the Homeland Security bill to include $285 million to build detention beds so apprehended illegals do not have to be set free, but the measure failed on a 230-196 vote. Republicans who voted against the amendment say that Thompson’s measure constituted a new bill rather than an amendment to the one being debated.
“The option is to vote yes or no on everything in the bill,” said a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
Ortiz notes that the U.S. Marshals office has contracted with one Texas county to detain federal detainees and that approach may yet be an option for holding OTM’s until their hearing dates. He also holds out hope that the Senate version of the Homeland Security bill could help plug this loophole in the border.
“We are not the only ones having problems with illegal aliens,” Ortiz says. “We are going to be working with the Senate and see what we can do to provide the facilities.”