Illegal immigrants from nations other than Mexico who cross the border into Texas would likely be freed there even if they are caught because there isn’t enough jail space to hold them, the Houston Chronicle reports. More than 47,600 illegal border crossers from “countries other than Mexico,” so called OTMs, have been caught in South Texas this year. More than 88 percent of them have been promptly released and most have simply melted into society, failing to show up for required immigration court hearings, says the Texas governor’s office. Alarmed that OTMs from not only Central America but also nations including Syria, Yemen, and Iraq are being freed, Texas lawmakers last year demanded that the Bush administration do something. Texas Gov. Rick Perry reiterated that concern last week when he proposed a $9.7 million border security plan. ”Al Qaeda leadership plans to use criminal alien smuggling organizations to bring terrorist operatives across the border into the U.S.,” Perry warned. “There can be no homeland security in Texas without border security.'”
Today, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff promised to end the “catch and release” policy, the Associated Press reports. “Return every single illegal entrant–no exceptions,” Chertoff said in prepared testimony to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Last week, his department launched a pilot program to speed the removal of Honduran detainees. Honduran consular officials now interview detainees via video teleconferencing to confirm their nationality, allowing the State Department to issue travel documents quickly so the migrants can return home. The measure is one of many that officials have taken since last year to try to get the OTM problem under control. In general, Mexican migrants who are caught choose voluntary departure.