EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of migrants released without court information on ‘honor system,’ lawmaker says

Border Report Tour

New photos of migrant detention facilities released to Border Report by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have released at least 2,000 migrants without full information about their upcoming immigration court proceedings as border agents are overwhelmed by the continuous high numbers crossing into South Texas daily from Mexico, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar told Border Report on Sunday morning.

The fast-track releases in the field are up substantially from the 150 families who were released last week, as Border Report first reported.

On Sunday, Cuellar also released to Border Report new photos showing the conditions that unaccompanied migrant children and migrant families under CBP custody face, including hundreds held under a bridge south of Mission, Texas, and thousands inside a migrant processing facility in the town of Donna, Texas.

The above photos from under the Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission, Texas, and at a migrant processing tent facility in Donna, Texas, were supplied by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar. (Courtesy Photos)

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the photos — taken within the past three days — showed hundreds of migrant families and children in close quarters, lying on the ground and most covered only by Mylar thermal blankets, such as the type given to runners in marathon races.

Cuellar first released the photos on CBS’s Face the Nation and then to Border Report. He said he released the photos in the interest of better transparency to the public.

“It’s important that the public know. There’s no media access,” Cuellar said via phone.

This isn’t the first time that Cuellar has released photos from these facilities that are off-limits to the media. On Monday, he sent out photos that were given to his office showing cramped and crowded quarters. A day later, CBP officials also released their own photos, which Cuellar told Border Report he thought were “sanitized.”

“After I put out those pictures they put out sanitized photos and videos,” Cuellar said.

Indeed, CBP officials on Tuesday released their own photos and 5-minute video of their facilities where unaccompanied minors are processed, and checked by medical officials in South Texas. The photos below were released by CBP officials last week:

Cuellar said Sunday that there are over 5,000 migrants currently detained for processing in the Rio Grande Valley and 64%, or 3,400 are unaccompanied migrant youth.

Most are making their way north from the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. And Cuellar said that drug cartels are in control of the human trafficking and are purposely crossing the youth in this part of South Texas, while single adults attempt to cross three hours west from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, into Laredo, Texas, which is his hometown.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas (Courtesy Photo)

“Everyday there’s more and more,” Cuellar said. “In Laredo, it’s totally the reverse where you have mainly single adults and Del Rio is a totally different make-up. And as I’ve said before, it’s all by design. It just doesn’t happen. It’s all by design.”

The surge in numbers has caused officers to fast-track migrants in the field and release them without testing them for coronavirus.

Border Report last week reported that 150 migrants from what are called “family units” — or those traveling with young children — were released without the formal Notice To Appear (NTA), indicating when and where they should appear in immigration court. Instead, the migrants are being given their booking reports, known as 385s, but it is not nearly as complete as the NTAs.

Immigration lawyers have told Border Report that the 385 forms do not specify that migrants must report to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials within three months, as specified by law.

Honduran immigrants Arlington Valdez, 28, is seen with his daughter at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, Texas, on March 22, 2021, just hours after he was released from DHS officials with the paperwork in the manila envelope on the table, which included a test showing they were COVID-free and a 385 form but no immigration court date information . (Border Report Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Cuellar acknowledged the confusion, saying: “Higher-uppers in D.C., are saying that they have to report within 60 days but the people on the ground say they are off into the United States on an honor system.”

Officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a statement to Border Report last week saying they are within the confines of the law to use discretion on each and every migrant case in the manner they see best.

““In some cases, families are placed in removal proceedings further along in the release process rather than while they are at the border patrol station. All families, however, are screened at the border patrol station, including the collection of biographical and biometric information and criminal and national security records checks,” the DHS statement read.

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