Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has no choice but to deport illegal immigrant families that fail to show up for their court hearings, said Mark Morgan, acting director of the agency.
“For the safety of our communities and the integrity of our immigration system, the law must be equally and fairly applied to all,” he said in a June 19 conference call with reporters.
Morgan commented on the growing humanitarian and security crisis at the border, where apprehensions of illegal crossers increased some 135 percent in the first eight months of fiscal year 2019 compared to the year-earlier period.
Due to a shortage in detention capacity, ICE has released more than 200,000 migrants into the U.S. interior since Dec. 1, he said.
The Border Patrol only has a holding capacity of 4,000 people, but had as many as 19,000 in custody recently.
“They are past the breaking point,” Morgan said.
Normally, Border Patrol transfers illegal immigrants to ICE, which then decides whether to hold or release them. But due to overcapacity, the Border Patrol had been forced to release them directly.
The majority of the illegal immigrants are from the Northern Triangle of Central America—El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. About 75 percent of them are families and unaccompanied children, who usually give themselves up to authorities and claim asylum. Due to loopholes in the immigration rules, children and families are unlikely to be promptly removed, if ever.
“It’s clear. If you grab a child, that’s your passport in the United States and everybody knows that,” Morgan said. “The [drug] cartels are actually buying ad space in the Northern Triangle countries telling individuals that if you grab a kid, you’ll come into the country.”
More than 80 percent of these people’s asylum claims fail in court. But some 95 percent of the Central American families caught along the border in 2017 remain in the country, which “is evidence that the system has failed and our removal efforts need to increase,” Morgan said.
Many of the illegal immigrants use fake documents and pretend to be parents of unrelated children in order to be released into the United States, he said.
The administration has given priority to families seeking asylum, pushing their cases to the top of immigration court dockets. The government is also helping them obtain legal counsel (which isn’t a right in immigration proceedings), as well as interpreters, and to ensure they know where and when to appear.
“The results were really disappointing,” Morgan said.
Nearly 90 percent of those on the expedited docket have failed to report for their proceedings, he said.
Failure to appear triggers deportation.
Around February, ICE sent those who failed to turn up in court a letter informing them they have been ordered removed, and a month later, the agency started a process of “compassionate removal back to their country,” Morgan said.