OTMs: Non-Mexican Migrants Caught, Then Often Released

Sara A. Carter, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin (Ontario, Cal.), March 30, 2006

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin Former Tucson sector Border Patrol agent Scott James says he caught his fair share of illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico during his years of service with the agency.

Not that it really mattered, he added.

James, who resigned from the Border Patrol two months ago, said his job, like those of his colleagues, was little more than a sham. Enforcing the law was the last thing the Department of Homeland Security wanted, he said.

Some illegal immigrants apprehended on the border are from Pakistan, Iraq, China and other countries considered by the Department of Homeland Security to be “of special interest”—that is, countries with known terrorist ties.

When immigrants from these nations are apprehended by U.S. law enforcement officials, many times they are processed and released within three hours, James said.

In the past six months, 57,312 non-Mexican migrants—commonly referred to as OTMs, for “other than Mexican”—were apprehended by Border Patrol agents in the United States, according to data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Of those, 52,644 were caught along the southern border, said Salvador Zamora, spokesman for the department.

Compared to the six-month period from October 2004 to March 2005—when 54,207 non-Mexican migrants were arrested, 49,828 of them along the southern border—apprehensions of non-Mexican migrants is up 5.7 percent, Zamora added.

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Homeland Security Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s promise of ending the “catch and release” practice still hasn’t come to fruition. The department contends that there is limited bed space and facilities to hold the non-Mexican migrants who are not able to return to their country of origin.

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In 2004, 644 migrants from Middle Eastern countries—including Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan—were apprehended at the border, according to Border Patrol data. The number for 2005 was similar: 649.

Since October, 205 people from Middle Eastern nations, some with terrorist ties, have been apprehended, according to the data.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center For Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based immigration think tank, said ignoring border security to focus on a guest-worker program may have damaging future consequences.

Current legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week to allow nearly 400,000 unskilled guest laborers into the U.S. has angered many law enforcement officials and border patrol agents, James said. He added that dealing with guest labor before national security is a backward policy.

“Immigration control at our border, our airports and elsewhere is far more important than ever before in national security,” Krikorian said. “This isn’t just an issue of radical Islam, but future conflicts, let’s say, with countries like Korea and Colombia. From this point forward, immigration control has to be the center of any national security strategy . . . leaving our border open is an invitation to attack.”

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