‘Catch and release’ resumes in South Texas, mayor says; Biden order reinstates policy

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Central American migrants are pictured making their way to El Paso Sun Metro busses after being dropped off in downtown El Paso by Immigration and Customs Enforcement late in the afternoon on Christmas day, December 25, 2018. – About 200 Asylum seekers were dropped off by ICE as part of a wave of mass releases over the Christmas holidays, which began on the night of December 23. Since, Annunciation House and volunteer groups have scrambled to accomadate the asylum seekers who would otherwise be stranded without food, water, shelter and means of communication. (Photo by Paul Ratje / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Biden administration has re-implemented the Obama-era “catch and release” method of dealing with undocumented migrants caught along the South Texas border with Mexico.

The move has caused volunteer groups in South Texas to scramble to try to help test for coronavirus all new undocumented migrant arrivals who are paroled into the United States before they board buses to other cities, officials tell Border Report.

On Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden issued executive orders significantly changing immigration policies set under the Trump administration. This included revoking an April 6, 2018, presidential memo by Donald Trump titled “Ending ‘Catch and Release’ at the Border of the United States and Directing Other Enhancements to Immigration Enforcement.”

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Tuesday told Border Report that city officials met with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, who told them last week that family units — undocumented migrants traveling with children who cross into South Texas — are now being paroled into the United States as they await their asylum proceedings. This is what occurred during previous border security apprehensions known as “catch and release,” when migrants were allowed to remain in the United States during their immigration proceedings however many years that may take.

Biden on Tuesday also ordered a top-to-bottom review of the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as “Remain in Mexico,” by his newly confirmed Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Nearly 70,000 migrants seeking asylum since 2019 have been forced to remain in Mexico or other countries during their U.S. immigration hearing process under MPP.

Children are seen on Jan. 17, 2020, at a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas. Most are migrants who were placed in the Migrant Protection Protocols, or remain-in-Mexico program, under the Trump administration. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Biden tasked Mayorkas to work with the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and the Director of the CDC to “promptly consider a phased strategy for the safe and orderly entry in the United States, consistent with pubic health and safety and capacity constraints, of those individuals who have been subjected to MPP for further processing of their asylum claims,” according to the executive orders.

Darling and others who help migrants in South Texas say they expect to see many more migrants in need of assistance very soon, and there are concerns that not all are being tested for COVID-19 before they travel elsewhere in the United States.

Border Report has asked CBP officials whether catch-and-release has officially been implemented and whether the migrants are being tested for coronavirus prior to be released. This story will be updated if information is received.

Released migrants are being helped and tested for COVID-19 at the Humanitarian Respite Center run by Catholic Charities of the RGV in downtown McAllen, Texas, prior to boarding buses. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Darling said that adult migrants traveling with children who were apprehended illegally crossing the Rio Grande into South Texas were being released by U.S. Border Patrol agents at the bus station in downtown McAllen. After release, city officials are immediately taking the migrants across the street to the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Humanitarian Respite Center, where they are receiving a free COVID-19 test. Once cleared by the tests, the migrants are boarding buses bound for cities elsewhere with the promise of appearing for scheduled U.S. immigration court hearings.

Jim Darling, mayor of McAllen, Texas, is seen in November 2020 at City Hall. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

“They are doing testing at the Respite Center before they get on buses,” Darling said. “We also have reached out to Greyhound and are working to get more buses because we expect a jump in numbers.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, told Border Report that the coronavirus tests are being done at the Respite Center facility where the migrants are also offered food, clothing and a chance to rest before traveling. Once a nightclub, this one-story building has helped hundreds of thousands of migrants over the years, and is where U.S. senators, congressmen and women, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have visited multiple times since an influx of undocumented migrant families began coming through the Rio Grande Valley in 2014.

Sister Norma Pimentel is seen at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, on Sept. 4, 2020, with volunteers who are feeding dinner to homeless residents. The facility

Since the pandemic began and travel restrictions with Mexico were imposed in March 2020, undocumented migrants apprehended on the border have been immediately expelled and were not eligible for parole in the United States.

That left the Humanitarian Respite Center empty many days, and for the past few months the center has offered overnight bed space and meals to the homeless.

But Darling says, based on his meeting with CBP officials last week, they soon expect an uptick in migrants to flood the center, which in the summer of 2019 regularly helped over 1,000 migrants per day.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visits the Humanitarian Respite on Aug. 11, 2019, in McAllen, Texas with a contingency of members of Congress. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Further east on the Gulf Coast in the city of Brownsville, COVID-19 tests also are being coordinated by Catholic Charities to help migrants paroled by border security officers there, Pimentel told Border Report.

And volunteers with the organization Team Brownsville are donating backpacks with food and clothing to officials at the downtown Brownsville bus station to help the migrants with their travels, volunteer Andrea Rudnik told Border Report.

Rudnik says they expect an influx any day now and also waiting for the Biden administration to formally find a way to release into the United States those migrants placed in MPP who have been living across the Rio Grande in a tent encampment in Matamoros, Mexico.

“We are just waiting with bated breath,” Rudnik said. “We are serving the asylum-seekers who come to the bus station, the ones who have come via the river.”

Rudnik says single adults who cross the river and are apprehended are not paroled via catch and release.

Border Report has asked CBP officials whether those not paroled are being sent to detention centers or expelled due to COVID-19. This story will be updated if information is received.

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