[JURIST] US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff [official profile] said Wednesday that US Border Patrol [official website] officials are now detaining nearly all non-Mexican illegal immigrants [DHS fact sheet] caught crossing the US-Mexico border for an average of 21 days before releasing them to their home countries. Fulfilling a promise [JURIST report] made by DHS leaders last fall, US officials detained 99 percent of non-Mexican immigrants stopped in the first two weeks of August, which amounts to nearly 2,000 people; Mexicans caught sneaking across the border are typically returned home immediately.
The new policy ending the former practice of "catch and release" has resulted in a 20,000 drop in the number of illegal immigrants caught crossing the border between this summer and the same period last year, Chertoff said. A new DHS study [PDF text] released earlier this month estimates that the number of illegal immigrants living in the US increased by half a million [JURIST report] between January 2005 and January 2006; a study released in March by the Pew Hispanic Center [research website] estimates that the number of illegal immigrants now living in the US [JURIST report] has risen to 12 million. The Bush administration, however, has made tighter immigration and border security [JURIST news archive] a priority this term. In May, the White House [official website] announced a plan to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops [JURIST report] to help curb illegal immigration [JURIST report] from Mexico, a controversial move that has been referred to by opponents as militarization of the border. AP has more.