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INS Releasing Illegal Immigrants from Detention in South Texas

January 19, 1990

BAYVIEW, Texas (AP) _ Immigration officials say an increase of Central Americans crossing the border into south Texas is straining detention centers and has forced the release of hundreds of detainees this month.

Immigration attorneys and others had speculated that detainees were being released because the government expected an influx of refugees from war-torn El Salvador and Nicaragua.

But Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner Gene McNary said Thursday in Washington that ″there is no connection between anyone who is released and any anticipation of a need for space because of the possible influx of Central Americans.″

However, he added, ″We would like to have the space to meet such an influx if it happens.

″We are not going to go over capacity,″ at the detention facilities, he said during a news conference. ″We are going to live within our budget.″

Illegal immigrants have been detained in south Texas while the government processes their requests for political asylum.

INS spokesman Verne Jervis in Washington said more than 500 Central Americans were apprehended in south Texas in the first two weeks of January, compared to about 500 for all of December. Seasonal factors, such as people returning from family visits over Christmas, may account for some of the increase, Jervis said.

Hundreds of detainees were authorized to leave south Texas over the past two weeks if they can provide a U.S. address where they have family, and agree to present themselves to the INS office nearest their destination.

Allowing such travel is a departure from the policy instituted last Feb. 21 after thousands arrived in Texas primarily from Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Immigrants were prohibited from leaving the area because most never reported to immigration officials in other cities. Instead, the immigrants were sent to detention camps while their applications for asylum were processed.

At one point, more than 2,400 people were in detention last year, either awaiting an asylum ruling, appealing a ruling or awaiting an appearance before an immigration judge.

The law says those without immigration documents may stay if they can prove they fled their homelands for political and not economic reasons.

There were 1,046 detainees, primarily Central Americans, at the immigration detention center near Bayview on Thursday. Another 697 people were detained Thursday in five other facilities in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

INS Harlingen District Director Jerry Sewell said he was unable to elaborate on whether the agency had changed the policy prohibiting asylum- seekers from leaving south Texas unless given asylum.

″Detention space is a problem and we’re trying to develop ways to solve it,″ Sewell said.

Update hourly