Nearly all non-Mexican illegal immigrants caught sneaking into the United States are being held until they can be returned to their home countries, the Bush administration said Wednesday.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said this marks the end of the so-called "catch-and-release" policy that for years helped illegal immigrants remain in the United States unhindered.
The new policy, dubbed "catch-and-detain" generally does not apply to Mexicans who are almost immediately returned to Mexico after being stopped by Border Patrol agents.
"Although we're not ready to declare victory — we've got a lot more work to do — it is encouraging and it is something that ought to inspire us to continue to push forward," Chertoff told reporters in Washington.
He credited the crackdown, aided this summer by National Guard troops, with deterring thousands of immigrants from trying to illegally enter the U.S. over the southwest border. Border Patrol data provided Wednesday shows a drop of about 20,000 illegal immigrants caught crossing from Mexico this summer, compared to last year.