Skip to comments.Illegal aliens brought to San Angelo, dropped off
Posted on 10/02/2005 6:47:03 PM PDT by Sgt.Po-Po
Alexander Enrique Hernandez arrived in San Angelo this week with a phone number and a court date he probably will not keep.
The 20-year-old El Salvador native slipped across the U.S.-Mexican border near Eagle Pass on Monday. Almost immediately, an agent with the U.S. Border Patrol arrested him, just another face among the 150 illegal aliens caught each day by the department's Del Rio sector.
Instead of processing him on the border, however, agents shipped him to San Angelo, served him paperwork telling him to be in a federal immigration court next month, and dropped him off at the Concho Street bus station.
Hernandez was one of 10 immigrants dropped off Tuesday night by San Angelo-based Border Patrol agents, who in the past two weeks have left as many as 100 at the bus station with nothing more than a notice to appear in court - a notice no one expects them to heed.
The handling of the immigrants, who come from Central and South America and are classified by the Border Patrol office as OTMs - Other Than Mexicans - has enraged local police, who say they received little warning about a potential security threat delivered by the federal government.
Likewise, the actions by a branch of the Department of Homeland Security have sparked anger and disbelief in Washington, where officials said San Angelo's situation represents larger concerns in a failing fight to secure the country's borders.
''This isn't just a community issue,'' said San Angelo Police Chief Tim Vasquez. ''This is a national issue. This has considerable national security tones.''
With cities along the Rio Grande overwhelmed by illegal aliens, the Border Patrol two weeks ago began sending OTMs to San Angelo, said Carlton Jones, spokesman for the office's Del Rio sector.
Such immigrants present problems for the Border Patrol, Jones said, because they cannot be easily deported across the border like their Mexican counterparts. Instead, they must wait for their court date, can appeal any deportation orders and must wait to be accepted back by their home countries.
The process can take as long as six months - far too long to detain someone arrested on American soil, Jones said, because the government does not have the space to detain all the OTMs whom Border Patrol agents capture each day.
Nationwide, the Department of Homeland Security has about 10,000 beds for detainees - in the last fiscal year, Border Patrol agents along the Southwest border arrested 75,000 OTMs.
A new process recently begun, called expedited removal, would cut the deportation time to just days; however, available detention space limits the number of aliens the office can put through that process as well.
''When there's no bed space, they're basically released on their own recognizance to appear in court,'' Jones said.
Normally, that occurs when the immigrants are arrested in Eagle Pass, he said, but agents in that city have been so overwhelmed by the influx of OTM immigrants that the Border Patrol began shipping detainees to Del Rio.
When Del Rio became clogged, San Angelo was next on the list.
All three cities are part of the Del Rio sector, which extends 300 miles north into Texas between sectors based in Marfa and Laredo.
''It's either do it this way,'' Jones said, ''or have them sitting on the floor for 12, 18, 24 hours.''
Unlikely to appear
On Tuesday night, Hernandez and six others sat in silence in a grimy bus station.
The man with wavy hair and a boyish face traveled for three months, walking and hitchhiking his way through Guatemala and Mexico before crossing at Piedras Negras, about 215 miles south of San Angelo.
Several of the men, who told similar tales, carried rolled-up copies of papers given them by Border Patrol agents.
The papers informed them, in English, that they had not provided adequate proof they were in the United States legally. The papers also said to appear in a San Antonio immigration court on the first Tuesday of the next month for a deportation hearing.
In interviews through an interpreter, the men said they would appear at the hearing.
Statistics suggest they are lying.
According to data provided by the Executive Office for Immigration Review - an arm of the Department of Justice, which oversees the immigration courts - the vast majority of those ordered to appear before the San Antonio court never do.
In 2004, more than two-thirds failed to appear, a total of 8,000 aliens. Through just the first six months of 2005, that figure nearly doubled - more than 15,000 did not show up for their hearings by June 30, a whopping 89 percent of all cases before the court.
In the past two years, more than 10,000 Hondurans alone - far and away the most of any country - did not appear for their hearings and were deported in absentia.
''Many times, that does happen,'' said Tim Counts, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS agency that oversees the prosecution of suspected illegal aliens. ''The judge will often deport them in absentia.''
With no identification, however, and unable to speak English, the immigrants generally melt into the population, found only if they again run afoul of the law, Counts acknowledged.
Such a situation has caused grumbling in Washington, particularly among Texas' delegation to the House of Representatives, where 24 of the 32 members - including Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Midland, who also represents San Angelo - signed a letter to President Bush urging action along the Texas-Mexico border.
''The influx of OTMs into our Texas communities is an immediate threat and an embarrassment,'' the letter states.
The growing problem along the border is a top priority among the House's leadership, Conaway said, adding that representatives from across the country are eager to pass legislation before Congress recesses in November.
Likewise, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office said she supports allowing local police to have the authority to arrest and detain illegal immigrants, rather than keeping that solely in the hands of the federal government.
Hutchison will use San Angelo as a ''glaring example of when government fails its people'' in a meeting next week with Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, said Chris Paulitz, a spokesman for the senator.
Such a porous immigration system is dangerous, he said.
''Any of these (disaster) scenarios you can imagine, a terrorist has thought the same thing,'' Paulitz said. ''This is a real threat to our national security.''
Not all detainees are released before their court dates, however.
Of an estimated 1.25 million illegal immigrants arrested along the U.S.-Mexico since Sept. 1, 2004, more than 130,000 were detained because of criminal records, said Mario Villarreal, spokesman for the Customs and Border Protection agency within DHS.
Not only do Border Patrol agents check fingerprint records, they also have access to the FBI database to determine whether an alien is a security threat, he said, and if an agent is suspicious of a particular immigrant, other databases can check other countries' records.
''When an individual is arrested, they're run through the system,'' Villarreal said. ''We're definitely moving in the right direction.''
DHS has requested funding from Congress for more than 1,000 additional beds in the upcoming fiscal year, as well as more agents on the border, said Jarrod Agen, Department of Homeland Security spokesman. Those two factors plus expedited removal should help alleviate the number of OTMs in the country, he said.
''It's not as simple as one solution to the problem,'' Agen said.
Thus far, Vasquez said, he has no evidence that any of the estimated 100 immigrants dropped off in San Angelo have done anything but board a bus, and crime in the city has not increased in the past two weeks.
Nevertheless, he questioned whether the background checks performed at the border are sufficient to protect against foreign criminals entering the country.
He noted that a violent criminal released from a Guatemalan jail on the condition that he leave the country likely would never show up in U.S. criminal records. His phone calls to federal authorities have not been returned, he said.
''They're allowing a bed issue to affect homeland security,'' Vasquez, shaking his head. ''I don't feel safe.''
Staff writer Brandy Ramirez contributed to this report.
Eagle Pass is a revolving door for illegal immigrants. The small town where I lived in rural Minnesota had about 5000 residents, and about 800 - 1000 of them were Mexican, mostly illegal. Every one I asked said they came to Minnesota from Eagle Pass, TX.
I just want to tell the president "You're doing great with the war on terror, but please let us protect America."
I say, don't send these "Other Than Mexicans" to San Angelo.
Send the sorry SOB's to Crawford, Texas to set up tarpaper towns everywhere around the President's own ranch.
If he loves them so much, let the hypocrite give them refuge on his own property.
Where is the "national security" candidate I was told I'd be voting for last November??
President Bush's score on immigration/border enforcement: F
Whoever dreamed up the policy ought to be tarred and feathered in public, even if it's the entire congress.
Why can't we build tent cities?
Races in Eagle Pass:
Other race (22.7%)
White Non-Hispanic (3.9%)
Two or more races (3.1%)
American Indian (0.6%)
(Total can be greater than 100% because Hispanics could be counted in other races)
Ancestries: United States (1.3%).
Setup some FEMA detention camps pronto. I think the situation qualifies as a national emergency.
Hell FEMA rented 3 cruise ships for 6 months at a cost of $240 million. Use those for detention if need be.
You mean those ranchers didn't become fabulously wealthy during the Great Texas Emu Bubble?
With the present "catch and release" policy we might as well abolish the Border Patrol and save the money. This stupid and idiotic approach is a National Disgrace.
Congress creates legislation and appropriates money.
All these new agents and detention beds were authorized last Dec., where's the money?
Mister, I'll debate you anytime and at any public place on the subject of illegal immigration and the disgraceful performance on the matter by George W. Bush. We'll let the audience decide which one of us has the third-grade mentality.
I'm tired of the blind defense of the indefensible.
You want more agents? Appropriate more money. Detention beds? More money.
Show me one thing that Congress has appropriated the money for that the Prez hasn't done.
Show me a reform bill that Congress has passed.
Put up or shut up.