DHS to end 'catch and release' of illegal aliens in October

The Homeland Security Department plans to stop releasing illegal immigrants into the United States by October, a senior official said Friday.

Greg Giddens, program manager for the department's Secure Border Initiative, told Government Executive he has been asked to end the "catch and release" practice by then.

A lack of detention bed space has forced the department to release non-Mexican illegal immigrants into the country if they do not have felony convictions and do not pose a threat to national security. Although these illegal immigrants are given a notice to appear in court for deportation proceedings, most never show up for their hearing.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told the Senate Judiciary Committee last fall that the department is committed to ending the practice.

"Our goal at DHS is to completely eliminate the 'catch and release' enforcement problem, and return every single illegal entrant -- no exceptions," Chertoff said.

Giddens, who previously worked for the Coast Guard's Deepwater program to modernize equipment, said one of his primary goals this year is to develop the overall strategy to end catch and release, which includes decreasing the length of time illegal immigrants are held and increasing the bed space and working out the logistics needed to detain them.

DHS announced this week that it has expanded its expedited removal program to all border regions, which allows immigration enforcement agents to more quickly deport illegal aliens.

The department recently asked private sector companies for help securing the borders. DHS plans to issue a solicitation for that component of the border initiative in late March or early April, and to select a prime contractor by the end of September. The Customs and Border Protection bureau is managing that effort.

"We need a broad and comprehensive approach that addresses all components of border security, including staffing, infrastructure and, of course, technology," said CBP acting commissioner Deborah Spero. "There is no task, no project, no engagement more critical to our national security than this."

Department officials have indicated that the Secure Border Initiative will be a priority in the fiscal 2007 budget, which will be released on Monday.

The fiscal 2006 Homeland Security appropriations bill included $940 million to hire 1,000 more Border Patrol agents and an additional 250 Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators, and to pay for 1,920 new beds at detention facilities and eight fugitive operations teams.

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