In a shocking reversal of policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents are being told to release illegal immigrants and no longer order them to appear at deportation hearings, essentially a license to stay in the United States, a key agent testified Thursday.
What's more, the stand down order includes a requirement that the whereabouts of illegals released are not to be tracked.
"We might as well abolish our immigration laws altogether," suggested agent Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
Testifying on the two-year border surge of immigrant youths, Judd said the policy shift was prompted by Obama administration "embarrassment" that just over half of illegals ordered to appear in court actually do.
"The willful failure to show up for court appearances by persons that were arrested and released by the Border Patrol has become an extreme embarrassment for the Department of Homeland Security. It has been so embarrassing that DHS and the U.S. attorney's office has come up with a new policy," he testified before the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee.
The biggest change: Undocumented immigrants are no longer given a "notice to appear" order, because they simply ignore them. Judd said that border agents jokingly refer to the NTAs as "notices to disappear."
The Department of Homeland Security, however, said that the government continues to be strict on the border.
"The U.S. Border Patrol continues to enforce immigration laws consistent with the department's enforcement priorities, which are focused on border security, national security, and public safety. As secretary [Jeh] Johnson has said many times, our border is not open to illegal migration and those who do so will be sent back," said spokesman Michael Friel.
He added, "The Border Patrol's resources are most effectively focused on the border – prioritizing the apprehension and removal of individuals attempting to unlawfully enter the United States. Our removal numbers reflect that. Border Patrol agents are issuing Notices to Appear, consistent with law, regulation, and the department's enforcement priorities."
Judd said the the new policy "makes mandatory the release, without an NTA, of any person arrested by the Border Patrol for being in the country illegally, as long as they do not have a previous felony arrest conviction and as long as they claim to have been continuously in the United States since January of 2014. The operative word in this policy is 'claim.' The policy does not require the person to prove they have been here which is the same burden placed on them during deportation proceedings. Instead, it simply requires them to claim to have been here since January of 2014."
But even then, he added, the agency has been told not to track the illegals.
"Not only do we release these individuals that by law are subject to removal proceedings, we do it without any means of tracking their whereabouts. Agents believe this exploitable policy was set in place because DHS was embarrassed at the sheer number of those who choose not to follow the law by showing up for their court appearances. In essence, we pull these persons out of the shadows and into the light just to release them right back to those same shadows from whence they came," he said.
The go free policy, he said, has prompted thousands of Latinos to cross the border, and among them are hundreds of criminal foot soldiers, according to other testimony.
"Immigration laws today appear to be mere suggestions. There are little or no consequences for breaking the laws and that fact is well known in other countries. If government agencies like DHS or CBP are allowed to bypass Congress by legislating through policy, we might as well abolish our immigration laws altogether," Judd concluded.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.