EXCLUSIVE: Fox News has learned from a senior source with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that a plan is under consideration for Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley Sector (RGV) to begin releasing illegal border crossers who claim asylum without issuing a Notice to Appear (NTA) – meaning they will depart custody without a court date.
Such a decision would be unprecedented if enacted and would place the responsibility of seeking an asylum hearing on the migrants through Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or legal assistance.
The source says the reasoning for the decision is that the situation has “become so dire that BP [Border Patrol] has no choice but to release people nearly immediately after apprehension because there is no space to hold people even to do necessary NTA paperwork.”
The process of issuing each migrant an NTA can take hours per individual or family. This would not apply to unaccompanied minors.
The RGV, based in Texas, is ground zero for the surge in border crossings and is more than 700% overcapacity.
When migrants are released in the RGV, Border Patrol usually coordinates it with Sister Norma Pimentel and her Catholic Humanitarian Respite Center. Pimentel tells Fox News that she is aware and is “coordinating her response.”
The controversial move allegedly on the table comes as the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working to open another facility for unaccompanied child migrants in Pecos, Texas, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) announced Saturday.
The Temporary Influx Care Facility would house at least 500 unaccompanied minors to start, with the capacity to house 2,000 children.
“While ORR has worked to build up its licensed bed capacity to almost 13,500 beds, additional capacity is urgently needed to manage both enhanced COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the increasing numbers of UC referrals from DHS,” an ORR spokesperson said.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief Alejandro Mayorkas said last week that border crossings were on track to be the highest in 20 years.
CBP announced it had encountered more than 100,000 migrants at the border in February, while numbers of child migrants in custody have also increased dramatically. The Biden administration has been moving to increase capacity of facilities to house migrants, and building a number of extra facilities — including looking at NASA sites and military bases.
“We are on pace to encounter more individuals on the southwest border than we have in the last 20 years,” Mayorkas said, although he later added that the situation is “not new” and noted the U.S. has faced border spikes before.
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration is considering flying migrants to states near the Canadian border for processing.
CBP requested the plane support from ICE on Friday after 1,000 migrant families and unaccompanied minors crossed the Rio Grande into South Texas on Friday morning, Homeland Security officials told The Washington Post. Border agents reportedly still had another 1,000 migrants they were unable to process Thursday night.
The backups at CBP are exacerbated by the nearly 4,500 unaccompanied children being held in detention centers and tent sites at the border, many beyond the legal three-day limit.
During the record 2019 border surge under President Trump, ICE flew migrants to other border sectors with the capacity to hold them.
Fox News has reached out to multiple DHS officials before publishing this story.