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Migrants walking to bus stop in McAllen, Texas

Despite Trump's executive order, rumor has it 'catch-and-release' isn't over

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Just south of Mission, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border, there is a spot where Border Patrol agents will sit and wait for illegal migrants to turn themselves in.

“They'll just head north knowing that eventually they are going to bump into somebody,” said Chris Cabrera, deputy spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council.

President Trump signed an executive order in January ending "catch-and-release" and former Secretary of State John Kelly announced several times this year that the policies were over, but Cabrera said that catch-and-release policies have not actually stopped.

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“We were told that catch-and-release had come to an end, and it looked like it did, it looked like people had stopped coming. Apparently, there has been no significant change in policy,” Cabrera said.

Kelly defined catch-and-release policies in a February memorandum as “policies that facilitate the release of removable aliens apprehended at and between the ports of entry, which allow them to abscond and fail to appear at their removal hearings, [and] undermine the border security mission.”

At the beginning of the year the number of apprehensions and inadmissibles on the Southwest border dropped dramatically, with almost 20,000 fewer people apprehended between January and February.

Human smuggling by tractor-trailer has led to hundreds rescued in this part of Texas

“August of 2017 to August of 2016 the numbers are down dramatically,” Cabrera said. “But if you look at the fact that they are up from this month and the month before, I think that's something that is worth noting."

Usually after May, during the hot summer months, the number of apprehensions at the border starts to decrease, but this year the numbers have increased every month since May.

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Cabrera said the numbers had been down because migrants had heard catch-and-release policies were ending, but once word got around that this was not true more people started to turn themselves in again.

After the migrants turn themselves in, Border Patrol will turn them over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and it is ICE agents that are in charge of releasing the migrants.

When ICE releases the illegal migrants near McAllen, Texas, they will usually pass through the respite center ran by Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, before heading off to their final destination in the U.S. and continuing the legal process.

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At the center, Pimentel feeds, clothes and helps explain to migrants their next steps before sending them off. She is in favor of catch-and-release policies and does not want to see them end because she thinks women and children should not have to stay in immigration detention centers.

“They are children and they require special care and attention and a detention facility is not necessarily the best place for them to be. And so an alternative to detention is allowing them to be with their family and continue their deportation proceedings somewhere else,” Pimentel said.

But Cabrera said he was happy when he heard the policies were coming to an end and said he hopes they do, because he thinks it's the only way to stop illegal border crossings.

"You have a group of people that you can't deter them through apprehension because they are trying to get apprehended, so you have to deter them by policy change, by enforcement of the law," Cabrera said.

Department of Homeland Security Director of Communications Jenny Burke told Circa there have been no recent policy changes, but they are following the executive orders.

She would not confirm if the catch-and-release policies have ended, but said undocumented migrants are still being released depending on the circumstances.

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Check out these related Circa stories:
A DHS audit found the agency can't justify hiring 15,000 agents because they don't have a plan
We spent a day with the Border Patrol and saw 11 migrants try to illegally enter the US
These migrants and asylum seekers learn American basics as they fight for legal status

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