Before dawn on the Rio Grande one recent day, Border Patrol agents caught a man sneaking into the U.S. from Mexico, says the Chicago Tribune. They arrested him, fingerprinted, photographed, and questioned him, leaving him red-eyed and tired in a room with more than a dozen other suspected illegal immigrants. Then Border Patrol agents handed him a “Notice to Appear” before an immigration judge; by early afternoon the 38-year-old farmworker from El Salvador was escorted out the same door he had entered. Three hours later he was on a bus to Houston, armed with a document that would allow him to pass a Border Patrol checkpoint up the road. He said he had no intention of returning for the court hearing.
The man was freed thanks to the Border Patrol’s “catch and release” policy, cited by critics as a huge shortcoming in America’s border enforcement efforts, and one that illegal immigrants are increasingly trying to exploit. “Notice to Disappear” is what critics of the program call the document given to non-Mexican immigrants, usually from Central America. They are let go because there aren’t enough beds to hold them while flights to take them back to their home countries are arranged. The shortages of beds, personnel and funds “encourage illegal immigration,” and when other factors are included, such as some countries’ reluctance to repatriate their citizens, the outcome is “an unofficial `mini-amnesty’ program for criminal and other high-risk aliens,” said Homeland Security Department Inspector General Richard Skinner.