Apprehensions of Other Than Mexican aliens

There are concerns the United States southern border along South Texas could be a security risk as non-Mexican, or "Other Than Mexican," alien detentions are rising sharply

Monday, September 26, 2005
by Spero News

The United States Border Patrol, within the Department of Homeland Security, is charged with securing our nation’s borders between official ports of entry. Located within DHS’ Customs and Border Protection, the USBP’s primary mission is to detect and prevent the entry of terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, and unauthorized aliens into the country, and to interdict drug smugglers and other criminals between official ports of entry.

As the USBP discharges its mission it encounters unauthorized aliens from around the world attempting to illegally enter the United States. In fiscal year 2004, USBP agents apprehended 1.16 million people attempting to enter the country illegally between official POE – 93 percent of these aliens were Mexican nationals.

In the new National Border Patrol Strategy, the agency notes that while some observers categorize the aliens being apprehended as economic migrants, “an ever present threat exists from the potential for terrorists to employ the same smuggling and transportation networks, infrastructure, drop houses, and other support then use these masses of illegal aliens as ‘cover’ for a successful cross-border penetration.�

Because the vast majority of people apprehended each year by the USBP are Mexican nationals, the agency categorizes aliens as Mexicans or Other Than Mexicans (OTM).

If the alien is Mexican or Canadian, they can be voluntarily returned across the respective border if they have not committed a felony, been previously removed or deported from the United States, or have any outstanding warrants in the IAFIS system.

Along the Southwest border, processing Mexicans who can be voluntarily returned takes only 10-15 minutes. After they are processed, the aliens are briefly held at the USBP station while they await the buses or vans that are used to return them to a nearby Mexican port of entry.

If the alien that has been apprehended is not Mexican, however, the process of returning them to their nation of origin is more complicated.

Over the past three years, OTM apprehensions have more than tripled nationwide and have been concentrated along the South Texas border. The reasons for this dramatic increase, and its geographical concentration in Texas, are not altogether clear.

The number of people entering the country illegally between ports of entry, and the concomitant proliferation of human and drug smuggling networks, can present risks to national security due to the ever-present threat of terrorism.

Terrorists and terrorist organizations could leverage these illicit networks to smuggle a person or weapon of mass destruction into the United States, while the large number of aliens attempting to enter the country illegally could potentially provide cover for the terrorists. Additionally, the proceeds from these smuggling networks could potentially be used to finance terrorism.

The issue of OTM apprehensions has received publicity recently for many of these reasons, which were highlighted during congressional testimony by DHS then-Deputy Secretary Admiral James Loy when he stated that Al-Qaeda is considering infiltrating the Southwest border due to a belief that “illegal entry is more advantageous than legal entry for operational security reasons.�

OTMs apprehended along the Southwest border by the USBP between official ports of entry cannot be returned to Mexico because Mexico will not accept them.

Instead, they must be returned to their countries of origin, or third countries that will accept them, by the Office of Detention and Removal Operations within Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

However, Detention and Removal Operations does not have enough detention beds to accommodate every OTM that is apprehended.

As a result of this, the majority of OTMs apprehended by the USBP are released into the interior of the United States with notices to appear before an immigration judge.

Most of these released OTMs fail to show up for their hearings and are not ultimately removed. To address the increasing number of OTMs being apprehended and circumvent the regular removal process, the US Border Patrol is currently expanding its Expedited Removal program.

Issues for Congress include the potential for terrorist infiltration, the lack of detention bed-space that causes OTMs to be released into the interior of the country, and how best to deploy DHS resources to address the growing number of OTMs entering into the country illegally.