Slipping Through The Cracks

Call it a high stakes game of "catch and release."

Make no mistake, the U.S. Border Patrol still does the catching along the border of Texas and Mexico, but CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports that these days many of those they catch are looking to be caught.

While on border patrol, Cowan encounters a few from a group of about 35 from Central America who were taken into custody, just across from the Rio Grande River. Two years ago, they would have run for their lives, but tonight they surrendered, because being taken into custody is exactly what they want.

That's because after they're filed, finger printed, and fed — most of them will walk away — and simply disappear into the underground economy.

"A staggering number of those we catch are going to walk out the door," says Randy Clark with the U.S. Border Patrol.

They are called OTMs — Other Than Mexican — usually Brazilian, Honduran or Nicaraguan.

At one crossing, agents said they've seen a 200 percent increase since last year.

They can't be bused back to their home country — as Mexican immigrants can — and there's no room to hold them while their deportation hearings get underway. So they're released with a permisso — a paper promise to appear in court later. Many will never show up at the hearings.

"In a round about way the figures indicate the majority will not show up," Clark says. "That's just the truth of the matter."

CBS News caught up with young Eli Romero, a furniture maker from Nicaragua, clutching his permisso like it was gold.

"I'm very happy," he says, through a translator. "Now that I have it, I'm going to take full advantage of it."

And the word is spreading fast.

"People have told us how easy it is," Santos Hifrain Euceda-Osorto, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, says through a translator. "We decided to see if it was true."

One hundred and sixty five thousand OTMs have been processed this year alone, taxing not only the resources of the Border Patrol, but of every agency along the border.

Tony Cardenas is the police Chief in Eagle Pass Texas. He says he's so busy with OTMs he has little time to focus on his real problem: drug trafficking.

"It's cutting us thin," Cardenas says. "Overwhelming what we are doing."

As for Eli Romero, he's headed for Baltimore. He said he would appear at his hearing next month, but at last check he had not showed up.

He's just like most of those on the bus to freedom who will never see an immigration official again.
  • Gina Pace

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