Catch & Release: What Does it Mean?

‘Catch and release’ is the colloquial (slang) name of a long-time U.S. immigration enforcement protocol. Essentially, the policy simply allows those who have been accused of immigration violations to be released in the interim period while they are waiting to go before an immigration judge. Politically, catch and release has become an extremely controversial issue. In 2006, Michael Chertoff, then the head of Homeland Security for President Bush, announced an end to the policy.

A Soft End to Catch & Release

Chertoff’s announcement did not actually bring a ‘hard’ end to catch and release. Indeed, under the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents were generally given discretion to determine the appropriate measures to take in individual immigration enforcement circumstances. Depending on their assessment of the situation, CBP agents could order those accused of immigration violations:

  • Released;
  • Detained; or
  • Deported.

In the eyes of many, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), this type of policy was already far too harsh on undocumented immigrants, many of whom have families with young children. However, in the assessment of President Donald Trump, this already strict immigration enforcement policy was still not harsh enough. Upon assuming office, Trump ordered an end to catch and release.

Donald Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration Enforcement

In an Executive Order signed on January 25th, 2017, President Donald Trump instructed immigration enforcement officials to end the practice of catch and release. Instead, Trump instructed CBP agents to take all available action to ensure that those charged with immigration violations are apprehended and detained pending their removal proceedings.

What Does President Trump’s Order Mean for the Border?

At this point, it is still largely unclear as to what exactly the explicit end of catch and release will actually mean at the border. As was mentioned previously, catch and release was already an officially disfavored policy that Michael Chertoff ‘ended’ over a decade ago. However, catch and release was still frequently used at the border, often for logistical reasons. Consider the very insightful reporting that was done on the issue by the Los Angeles Times a few weeks after Trump signed his executive order. According to reporting, the policy still somewhat remains in place because there is simply no other option. The L.A. Times referenced the fact that the U.S. does not have nearly enough detention space to hold the families that are currently crossing the border. Beyond a shortage of space, there is also a massive immigration backlog. As United States congressmen Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from a border district in Texas, noted in the article, there is currently a 500,000 case backlog, and it is still growing. For now, there is distressing little clarity and certainty on U.S. immigration enforcement procedures.

We Support Immigrants in Los Angeles

If you or your family is in need of immigration law assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the Goldstein Immigration Lawyers today. From our office in Los Angeles, we serve immigrants throughout Southern California, including in Glendale, Beverly Hills, Alhambra and Cerritos.


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