US President Barack Obama’s administration for nearly three months this summer carefully avoided answering questions about what happened to tens of thousands of immigrant families caught illegally crossing the Mexican border and released into the US with instructions to report back to immigration authorities.
US Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and others said they faced deportation, but it turns out that tens of thousands of those immigrants did not follow the government’s instructions to meet with US federal immigration agents within 15 days. Instead, they have vanished into the interior of the country.
The US Department of Homeland Security privately acknowledged that about 70 percent of immigrant families failed to report as ordered. The disclosure came during a confidential meeting at its Washington headquarters with immigration advocates participating in a US federal working group on detention and enforcement policies.
The Associated Press (AP) obtained an audio recording of Wednesday’s meeting and separately interviewed participants.
On the recording, the government did not specify the total number of families released into the US since October last year. Since only a few hundred families have already been returned to their home countries and limited US detention facilities can house only about 1,200 family members, the 70 percent figure suggests the government released about 41,000 members of immigrant families who subsequently failed to appear at US immigration offices.
The official, who was not identified by name on the recording, also said that final deportation had been ordered for at least 860 people traveling as families caught at the border since May, but that only 14 people had reported as ordered.
Homeland Security did not dispute the authenticity of the recording.
That previously undisclosed no-show rate led in part to the government’s decision in June to open a temporary detention facility at a federal training center in Artesia, New Mexico.
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