Will the Biden Administration Take a Stand Against Catch and Release?

As the country prepares for the incoming presidential administration, one question Americans should be asking is what President-elect Joe Biden intends to do to stop the rising surge of apprehensions at the Southwest Border. One major project he could tackle is closing a loophole that has allowed illegal immigrants to remain in the United States, even after being apprehended by immigration authorities.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report highlighting the adverse effects of allowing alien families and dubious asylum-seeking migrants to wait in the United States for their immigration court dates, also known as the “catch and release” policy. The Fiscal Year 2020 Enforcement Lifecycle Report affirms the long-standing concerns about the procedure. The document details the enforcement outcomes for aliens entering across the Southwest Border between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2019.

According to DHS, 3.5 million apprehensions occurred at the U.S.-Mexico border in the five-year span. Of those: 51 percent, or 1.8 million aliens were repatriated. The remaining 49 percent, or 1.7 million aliens, had no confirmed departure.  

Of those: 1.7 million aliens were not removed; 8.1 percent had been granted relief from deportation. The remaining 40.9 percent, or 695,300 remain in the United States.

An estimated 1 million apprehended migrants were classified as “family unit aliens,” which are parents or legal guardians and children traveling together. Only 6 percent of these people were repatriated; the remaining 94 percent are residing in the United States. Similarly, unaccompanied alien children had an even lower deportation rate of 4.3 percent; the remaining 96 percent had no confirmed departure date.

As Stephen Dinan of The Washington Times pointed out, family units have a lesser chance of being repatriated by DHS. Dinan also found that many illegal aliens released into the United States never show up for their court hearings. Even aliens who attended their immigration hearings and received removal orders were often released and subsequently did not show up for their final removal.

President-elect Biden has signaled he plans to scrap existing asylum policies that have helped mitigate the negative effects of catch and release. Moving forward with that strategy will almost certainly lead to an even larger backlog in asylum applications.

Additionally, large numbers of illegal aliens entering and eventually staying in the United States would exacerbate the burden mass migration has on the American people. According to a FAIR report, illegal aliens cost American taxpayers $131.9 billion annually. Americans should not be footing the bill for immigration law violators.

The Biden administration and Congress will have the opportunity to codify a legislative solution to catch and release. A step in the right direction would be passing a bill that would supersede the 1997 Flores Settlement Agreement, the impetus for catch and release. Under Flores, unaccompanied alien minors in immigration detention must be released to a parent or guardian without delay.

In 2015, a federal judge expanded Flores to include children traveling with adults who must also be released from detention after 20 days. Subsequently, many families that file for asylum are let go from custody, only to disappear in the United States.

Closing the Flores loophole would benefit the American people. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has already indicated that they do not intend to do this. Instead, they plan to undo successful border security policies. Unless they change course, it can be fully expected that this situation is about to get much worse.

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