updated 8/10/2004 5:02:09 PM ET 2004-08-10T21:02:09

The Homeland Security Department will accelerate deportations of certain illegal immigrants, while allowing Mexicans on short-term legal visits to stay in the United States for up to a month, it announced Tuesday.

Asa Hutchinson, the department’s undersecretary for border and transportation security, said that illegal immigrants who are not from Canada or Mexico and have not been in the country more than 14 days will be quickly deported, usually without a hearing.

At the same time, he announced, Mexicans who stay close to the border after entering the United States with border crossing cards will be allowed to remain in the country up to 30 days, rather than the current limit of three.

“We want to send a clear message that those individuals who follow legal immigration rules will benefit, while those who choose to break our immigration laws will be promptly removed from the United States,” Hutchinson said.

100-mile limit
The deportations will apply to immigrants apprehended up to 100 miles from the Mexican or Canadian border. The new policies will become effective immediately after they are published in the Federal Register this week, Hutchinson said.

There will be no change to a separate rule that restricts Mexicans legally visiting the United States from traveling farther than 25 miles from the border unless they apply to stay longer.

The immigration announcements could help President Bush win support in the election battleground states of New Mexico and Arizona. Bush was scheduled to campaign in Arizona on Wednesday.

Politicians and business leaders from states along the border with Mexico have pushed for longer stays for Mexicans crossing the border legally as post-Sept. 11 security has tightened. But some U.S. residents and officials also have demanded stepped-up border enforcement and an end to a federal law enforcement practice of releasing illegal immigrants on their own recognizance while they await deportation hearings.

‘Catch and release’ practice condemned
Republican Rep. Henry Bonilla and Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz, both from Texas, asked for an end to the “catch and release” practice in a letter sent Monday.

“We simply cannot continue allowing U.S. citizens to be under the mistaken impression that (non-Mexican immigrants) from countries that should raise suspicion are being detained in the U.S. when, in fact, they are free to roam the nation at will,” Bonilla and Ortiz said in the letter.

Immigration officials have said all immigrants are screened and their backgrounds are checked before they are released.

Border officials do not want the tightened security to interrupt legitimate travel by Mexicans who shop, vacation, do business, tour or visit friends and relatives in border communities.

Mexicans who make such quick trips across the border can use laser visas obtained from American consulates and embassies. A Mexican must undergo a criminal background check to get the visa, which is embedded with the holder’s digital fingerprints and photo. Those who want to stay more than three days and travel farther must go through additional processes.

‘27 more days in a row’
Sen John Cornyn, R-Texas, said he wants Mexicans to have the same travel privileges as Canadians, who can visit the country for up to six months per trip on proof of citizenship and can travel throughout the United States.

“Mexicans visiting with laser visas invest in our real estate, travel and support local industry,” Cornyn said. “They have shown they are willing to visit this country legally and should be allowed to stay as long as Canadians engaged in similar travel and commerce.”

“It’s 27 more days in a row that people from Mexico can come here and spend money. ... It’s 10 times more than what we have right now, so it’s great,” said Bill Summers, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, which promotes the South Texas region.

The United States shares a nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California share a border with Mexico.

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