Border Patrol: Migrant releases will continue 'as needed' as rural sheriff seeks help with arrivals

By Associated Press, Alisa Reznick
Published: Friday, September 15, 2023 - 8:19am
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2023 - 12:11pm

Border wall Douglas Arizona
Jerry Glaser/U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The border wall east of Douglas, Arizona, on Dec. 14, 2020.

This month, Border Patrol agents resumed street releases of migrants and asylum seekers in some Arizona cities.

Local officials have reported drop offs in places like Bisbee and Douglas, in Cochise County, and in Nogales, in Santa Cruz County.

Normally, migrants allowed to enter the U.S. to await immigration court dates are released in coordination with aid groups. In Arizona, those NGOs typically transport them to Tucson or Phoenix — where there are more shelters and resources to help while migrants coordinate their travel plans.

But migrants are sometimes released into smaller communities if the number of people taken into custody gets too high.

In 2015, the ACLU and other lawyers filed a federal suit in Arizona over conditions at Border Patrol facilities in the Tucson Sector, and the court outlined stipulations for the sector after finding conditions violated constitutional standards and the agency's own policies.

Tucson Sector Border Patrol Chief John Modlin said 13,000 apprehensions happened sector-wide last week — or nearly 2,000 per day. A Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said the street releases are continuing on an as-needed basis.

Arizona sheriff seeks state and federal help to handle arrival of asylum-seekers in rural area

The sheriff of Arizona's easternmost border county asked state and federal officials for help Thursday with the sudden daily release of more than a hundred migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., including families with small children.

Along with other local officials at a news conference Thursday, Sheriff Mark Dannels of Cochise County said that the rural area doesn't have shelters or other infrastructure to attend to the needs of migrants, many of them from faraway countries in western Africa and southeast Asia.

“We don’t have any resources at all to house these people,” said Douglas Mayor Donald Huish.

The officials said Customs and Border Protection has been overwhelmed with arrivals and began releasing the migrants into small communities such as Douglas and Bisbee on Wednesday and continued Thursday. Some were dropped off at a bus stop outside a Bisbee supermarket.

Douglas is a city of about 16,000 people on Arizona's border with Mexico. Dannels said the migrants entered the U.S. at other locations along the U.S.-Mexico border, but didn't specify where or why remote Cochise County was chosen as the location to release them.

Officials said many migrants are being transported out of the area to a Tucson shelter on buses paid for by Pima County with federal grant funding.

When contacted, CBP did not address specific questions about why Cochise County was chosen for releases, but said it is “working according to plan and as part of our standard processes" to get people quickly out of detention facilities before they become overcrowded.

It said it aims to “safely and efficiently screen and process migrants to place them in immigration enforcement proceedings consistent with our laws.”

Typically, asylum-seekers who are allowed to remain in the U.S. are sheltered for a few days by nonprofit organizations that then help them make contact with and travel to stay with relatives in other parts of the country pending their immigration court dates.

But those organizations don't exist in remote areas like Cochise County.

Yuma County, located on Arizona's border with Mexico in the far west, has encountered similar problems in 2021 when Border Patrol officials released migrants there when facilities became overwhelmed.