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administration, Congress make efforts to address border 'catch and release'


Editor's Note: This is the final story of a three-part series that examines the security of U.S. borders.

Efforts to address border 'catch and release'
By The Associated Press

The Bush administration and Congress have offered proposals to address the flow of illegal immigrants over the nation's borders. Where the ideas stand:

Expedited Removal:

Last August, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to expand a program meant to speed the deportation of illegal immigrants. The so-called "expedited removal" process, which has been used at official entry points since 1997, was extended to the land borders between these points.

The procedure allows undocumented immigrants apprehended within 100 miles of the Mexican or Canadian borders within 14 days of their entry into the United States to be ordered returned to their home country by border agents as soon as circumstances allow. They are not provided a hearing before an immigration judge unless they have a credible fear of return to their country.

The program aims to cut down on the number of migrants released on their own recognizance or bond while awaiting court hearings -- many of whom fail to show up for those hearings.

The program was launched in two of the Border Patrol's 20 sectors -- Tucson, Ariz., and Laredo -- in September. Other sectors are receiving training. The Border Patrol says more than 20,000 people have been processed for expedited removal, although the acting director of ICE's Detention and Removal Office told Congress last month that fewer than 7,000 had been deported.

Extra Manpower:

In December, President Bush signed into law an overhaul of U.S. intelligence-gathering, which included several measures addressing border security. For one, the bill called for hiring 2,000 more Border Patrol agents a year over five years -- nearly doubling the agency's size.

Bush's proposed budget for 2006 provided only enough money to hire 210 new Border Patrol officers, though in May the president signed an emergency spending bill that would pay for 500 more agents.

About 11,000 agents patrol the nation's land and coastal borders.

Detention Space/Alternatives to Detention:

Over the past two years, Congress has provided funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 19,444 detention bed spaces. In May, Bush signed an emergency spending bill providing money for an additional 1,950 bed spaces, for a total of 21,394.

Even the expanded bed space falls far short of the administration's stated goal of adding 8,000 detention beds every year through 2010 -- a total of 40,000 additional bed spaces. The president's 2006 budget request includes enough money for 1,920 additional beds.

ICE is looking to expand next year an alternative-to-detention program that monitors non-criminal migrants awaiting immigration proceedings with electronic bracelets, home visits, work visits and reporting by telephone.


In May, Bush signed into law a bill that allows the Homeland Security secretary to build border barriers, including the remainder of a fence along a 3 1/2-mile stretch just north of Tijuana, Mexico. The spot is known as Smuggler's Gulch, a favorite crossing point for illegal immigrants and drug runners.

More than 10 miles of the border between the Pacific Ocean and inland hills already have been fortified with fences, lights, motion sensors and beefed-up patrols. Barriers also have been erected along other parts of the border, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona.

Obstructions are less popular along the 4,000-mile northern border. "Up here, we can't use the obstructive approach," explains Joe Giuliano, assistant chief of the Border Patrol station in Blaine, Wash. "There's major political resistance on both sides of the line to 'fence off' Canada. It's not going to happen."

Immigration Policy:

Many believe the tremendous flow of illegal immigrants won't slow until the nation's immigration policies are changed.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., are putting together an immigration bill that would conditionally allow certain illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and earn a chance to apply for permanent residency. Under their proposal, illegal immigrants would get three-year visas that could be renewed once. After completing six years of work, the immigrants would be eligible to "get in the back of the line" to apply for permanent legal residency.

Last year, Bush suggested a guest-worker program that would be open to illegal immigrants and other foreigners. Bush supports giving workers legal status for three-year renewable periods, but wants them to return to their home countries when their job is done. The White House never submitted a written proposal to Congress.