ICE Drops Migrant Families At Bus Stations, Churches And Nonprofits Respond

By Matthew Casey
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2018 - 8:55am
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2018 - 1:14pm

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Citing a lack of space and the need to stay in line with a court order, ICE started releasing large groups of undocumented immigrant families to Arizona churches and nonprofits in October.

But on Monday, ICE dropped off about 30 families at the Phoenix Greyhound bus station.

“ICE will often bring migrants to our terminals with tickets and confirmation numbers without notification,” company spokesperson Crystal Booker wrote in an email. “Yesterday, migrants were dropped off without confirmation numbers or tickets. Our team does its best to assist under these often unexpected circumstances.”

Nonprofits and churches in the Valley were called in to help.

“They were alerted by Greyhound officials, who noticed the need for help and then called out pretty much anyone they knew who could come and assist,” said Leah Sarat, a core volunteer member and spokesperson for the Phoenix Restoration Project.

Since around 2012, the Phoenix Restoration Project has built an infrastructure of volunteers and healthcare providers to help people after they’re released from detention.

Sarat said what happened at the Greyhound station Monday was not chaotic.

“What we do want to do is take this as an additional motivation to continue amping up our volunteer numbers," she said.

Speaking on background, an ICE official said the migrant families were dropped off at the Greyhound station because faith-based groups and nonprofits the agency works with were not able to take in everyone who was released. The ICE official said the groups have since found more space, and new organizations have come forward to help. The number of families being released is fluid and ICE continues to monitor the situation.

The ICE official said the agency won’t take more families straight to bus stations, unless it has to.

“They can’t read the bus ticket. They don’t know the language. They can’t hear the announcements that it is time to go to a certain gate and get on the bus,” said Rev. Ken Heintzelman, senior minister at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ.

Ken Heintzelman
Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Rev. Ken Heintzelman is senior minister at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ in Phoenix.

After years of giving hospitality to undocumented people, Shadow Rock took in about 50 migrant families in early October. The north Phoenix church has since been sending its volunteers to other houses of worship to help groups of released families.

Heintzelman said no one called him Monday to ask for help with migrant families.

“Basically you’ve created a temporary homeless problem for a parent and child there at the Greyhound bus station,” he said.

ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe emailed a written statement:

“To mitigate the risk of holding family units (FAMU) past the timeframe allotted to the government, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decides, on a case-by-case basis, whether FAMUs will be detained pending immigration proceedings,” the statement said. “In making these determinations, ICE officers weigh a variety of factors, including the individual’s criminal record, immigration history, ties to the community, risk of flight, and whether the individual poses a potential threat to public safety. Aliens are fully advised of the terms and conditions of their release.”

The Phoenix Restoration Project plans to keep an eye on the Greyhound station, and its volunteers will be there to help if ICE drops off more undocumented families there.

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