Texas Democrat Henry Cuellar Says Border Patrol Released 2,000 Migrants Into U.S. Without Court Dates

Border Patrol is relying on some asylum-seekers to follow the honor system to show up for their immigration court hearings, according to claims by Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.

The congressman said that nearly 2,000 migrants were released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) into the United States without the necessary legal documents ordering them to appear in immigration court. This means that immigration authorities are effectively relying on these asylum-seekers to turn up for court hearings on their own.

"I thought it was 150 people that they have released without a Notice to Appear, but it actually is getting now closer to 2,000 people they released," Cuellar said to the Washington Examiner. "I told the person, 'Repeat it one more time.' Two thousand. I thought it was bad when it was 150, but it's now closer to 2,000 people."

CBP
Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas claimed U.S. Customs and Border Protection has allowed roughly 2,000 migrants to enter the U.S. without notices to appear in immigration court. Above, a U.S. Border Patrol agent questions asylum-seekers after they crossed the Rio Grande into Texas on March 25, in Hidalgo, Texas. John Moore/Getty Images

It's a normal practice for CBP to release families with notices for immigration hearings whenever they take more people into their custody than they can house at border facilities. Migrants must appear in court because crossing the border is considered a misdemeanor the first time and a felony in any recurring offense.

But accountability is difficult for immigration authorities to enforce court appearances when the migrants have no record in the legal system, the Examiner reported. The Biden administration must "hope that they honor the honor system and show up at some time in the future," Cuellar said.

In a press briefing Friday, CBP Deputy Chief Raul Ortiz did not address Cuellar's claims, a CBP spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek. The spokesperson did not confirm or deny Cuellar's specific claim, but did say policy remains that single adults and families "are to be expelled to Mexico" under Title 42. If Mexico's capacity is strained by the the influx of rejected arrivals, migrants are transferred within the U.S. to non-governmental organizations for "services" or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, the spokesperson confirmed.

According to CBP, the process to procure a Notice to Appear (NTA) "frequently takes hours," which exacerbates overcrowding in border facilities. Migrants who are released without a legal notice to appear in court are given a legal document with directions to report to an ICE office, the spokesperson wrote to Newsweek. The latter still puts the onus on asylum-seekers to take court dates into their own hands.

"Due to these capacity issues, earlier this week CBP began processing some individuals with a different form – known as an I-385 – that takes less time," the spokesperson wrote. "To reduce confusion, beginning on March 24, CBP included a notation on the form providing these individuals with a notice to report to an ICE office to commence their immigration proceedings."

The CBP spokesperson added that that Border Patrol agents follow proper processes when transferring migrants, including collecting fingerprints, photos, phone numbers, an address in the U.S., and running a background check to detect any criminal history. All migrants released are tested for COVID-19.

The congressman's claims demonstrate the pressure the Biden administration is under at the southwest border now that asylum-seekers are permitted to remain in the U.S. while awaiting immigration court appearances.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden repealed former President Donald Trump's Migrant Protection Protocol, which forced asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico before their court dates. Taking away the latter policy has brought Biden both praise and criticism, but his rhetoric around immigration has also painted a misleading picture that the new president is prepared to process an influx of arrivals.

Cuellar has been vocal about the need for clearer messaging from Biden surrounding policy the border to curtail the masses of arrivals. He said border patrol had "no choice" amid "overloaded" conditions at migrant facilities but to release some of the migrants without their paperwork.

The report comes as Biden has falsely claimed he's turned away the majority migrants at the border, and Cuellar's claims show that more migrants may be staying the country than the Biden administration is letting on.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, Henry Cuellar's name was misspelled.

Updated 3/27/21, 3:19 PM ET, updated to include comment from CBP.