“Catch and release” policy off the table — for now

PRESIDIO — For weeks, Border Patrol warned officials in Presidio that unspecified policy changes could see the agency release unknown numbers of migrants into the city as early as September 1. It was a nerve-wracking prospect for local officials, who wanted to help desperate migrants but warned they just didn’t have the necessary facilities.

Now it’s September, and Border Patrol says it has no immediate plans to drop off migrants into Presidio. Local officials say the issue has disappeared almost as quickly and quietly as it first showed up.

The Big Bend Sentinel first reported on the possible new policy in August. City officials scrambled to prepare, and Presidio Mayor John Ferguson urged the feds to reconsider their alleged policy.

But in a statement Tuesday to The Big Bend Sentinel, Border Patrol said it would only release migrants into Presidio as a “last resort.”

The agency would “continue to work in partnership” to “mitigate any local impact to the best of our ability,” the statement added.

For officials, the news was sudden — but not unwelcome.

In conversations last week — as well as in an identical written statement — Border Patrol told officials in Presidio city and county that it would not release migrants into Presidio and would instead continue sending them to El Paso for processing.

Rod Ponton, county attorney for Presidio County, said the update was a sign that the federal border authorities “will respect Presidio and acknowledge that Presidio does not have the community resources to handle a large influx of released detainees.”

They recognized that one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “They can’t do the same thing in Presidio that they’re doing in El Paso and Laredo.”

Presidio County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Joel Nuñez said he was “very pleased” with the news, which he said he learned about at meeting last week between local authorities and Border Patrol.

The way we heard it was, [the possible catch and release policy] was going to be placed on hold,” he said. “Probably an indefinite hold.”

He was grateful to Border Patrol, which he felt had taken local concerns about a lack of shelter for migrants into account. He said Presidio had always been “very helpful” and would have done what it can to help migrants entering the city. But in the long-term, the city would have been “overwhelmed,” he said.

Presidio Mayor John Ferguson also learned the news last week, via text message. 

Ferguson, who sometimes rides his bicycle in the countryside outside of Presidio, suspects larger shifts are at work. “You used to see a lot of Border Patrol on hilltops,” he said. Not so much anymore. “The flow of people must not be what they feel it was a month or two ago.”