ICE Releasing Large Numbers Of Immigrant Families To Arizona Churches

Published: Monday, October 8, 2018 - 5:38pm
Updated: Tuesday, October 9, 2018 - 8:03am

The federal government quietly started releasing hundreds of undocumented immigrant families into the United States this past weekend, and social workers across Arizona described a chaotic process that started on Saturday.

Alma Bon, who works for Yuma Refugee Ministries, handled dozens of new families Monday morning.

“We heard rumors they were going to release them on the street,” Bon said. “So we started communicating, asking them what was going to happen."

Rather than turn people loose, the organization, and others in Tucson and Phoenix, worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release families to the churches before they are set free to await immigration court hearings in the U.S.

In the Valley, Pastor Magdalena Schwartz said ICE reached out to her on Friday to ask for help making sure newly released immigrant families had somewhere to go while they wait to connect with relatives.

About 50 families, mostly from Central America, came to her church over the weekend, Schwartz said.

Now Schwartz is working with other faith leaders, preparing to feed and clothe even more families in the coming days. ICE did not tell her how many people will be released.

“All that they said, it’s a lot,” Schwartz said. “But they (did not) give me numbers.”

An ICE spokesperson emailed a statement:

“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families that have no legal basis to remain in the United States. As a result, family units (FAMU) continue to cross the border at high volumes and are likely to continue to do so, as they face no consequence for their actions. Prior to releasing a FAMU within the time allotted by judicial decisions interpreting the Flores Settlement Agreement, ICE reviews their post-release plan, including ensuring they have a means to reach a final destination within the United States. This is a time and resource intensive process that can delay the release of a FAMU by several days while ICE confirms bus routes, coordinates with NGOs, and communicates with family members. There is no requirement that this review be conducted, it is a self-imposed process instituted by ICE.

“In light of the incredibly high volume of FAMUs presenting themselves along the Arizona border, ICE no longer has the capacity to conduct these reviews without risking violation of the Flores limitations on lengths of stay for minors in both (Customs and Border Protection) and ICE custody. To mitigate that risk, ICE began to curtail such reviews in Arizona beginning Sunday, Oct. 7.

“ICE has alerted local and state officials and reached out to (non-government organization) partners in the area who are prepared to provide assistance with transportation and/or other services. The safety of those in ICE’s custody remains the agency’s highest priority, with special attention paid to vulnerable populations.  Release determinations will continue to be made on a case by case basis.”