Trump administration to release hundreds of immigrant families from detention
But with border nonprofits already stretched to capacity, many families will probably end up dropped off en masse at bus stations.
Hundreds, or even thousands, of migrant families are set to be released from government detention along the US-Mexico border over the next several days. But while the mass release of families may cheer critics of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrant families, the government’s new plan will probably lead to hundreds of families getting dropped off en masse at bus stations — literally out in the cold.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that’s generally responsible for immigrant detention, has already started mass releases of hundreds of families a day.
But in a break with standard policy, US Border Patrol has developed a plan to release some families directly if they’ve been held for more than a few days — instead of holding all families for ICE to pick up.
Plans for Border Patrol to release families directly were confirmed to Vox by two officials with knowledge of the mass-release operation. The sources said that releases from both ICE and Border Patrol could start as soon as Thursday and are expected to last for a few days — with hundreds of families a day set to be released in the Rio Grande Valley and around El Paso.
A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security, Katie Waldman, did not confirm any plan to release families directly from Border Patrol custody.
However, in a statement, Waldman partly blamed a 2015 ruling extending legal protections to children who arrived with parents in the US — including requiring Border Patrol to keep them in custody for no more than 72 hours — for causing the current “immigration crisis”, saying it “incentivizes illegal alien adults to put their children in the hands of smugglers and traffickers” and “rewards parents for bringing their children with them to the United States.”
Releasing families who’ve entered the US without papers from detention is the exact outcome the Trump administration has spent all of 2018 deriding as “catch and release,” and which it has rolled out a series of policy initiatives — “zero tolerance” prosecution and widespread family separation, regulatory efforts to keep families in detention until they’re deported, the “asylum ban” now blocked in the courts, a not-yet-implemented plan to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico — to prevent.
But the system for apprehending and detaining children and families is in crisis — and the consequences have been deadly.
Two children have died in the past month in Border Patrol custody in New Mexico, the area of the border where the US government has been most overwhelmed by unprecedented numbers of families crossing into the country. Felipe Alonzo-Gomez, who died in a New Mexico hospital just after midnight on Christmas Day, had been in Border Patrol custody for six days — a violation of both agency policy and the Flores settlement that governs the treatment of children in immigration custody — and had been shuffled among four different facilities.
Amid growing scrutiny of Border Patrol detention conditions, the new release plan may seem welcome to Trump critics. But that raises the question of where all those newly released families will go; who will help them adjust to life in the United States; and how they will get to where they need to go while awaiting their immigration court hearings.
Normally, local nonprofits take care of families after release at the border. But it’s not at all clear that local nonprofits have the capacity to care for hundreds more families — the lead nonprofit in El Paso, Annunciation House, was stretched beyond capacity even before ICE started releasing hundreds of families in the area earlier this week. And in some sectors, the government doesn’t even have a relationship with a local nonprofit that it can notify before dropping off families.
That means families who have no knowledge of the US might be getting dumped en masse at bus stations in the middle of winter, many without winter clothing and all without guidance about what to do next.
Officials and nonprofits alike at the border are being asked to do something they have never had to do before: take care of tens of thousands of migrant families coming in a month, often in large groups and often in remote areas. President Trump’s constant stoking of panic about immigrants coming into the US to commit crimes has overshadowed a real crisis at the border over the past several months — a crisis of resources. Unprecedented numbers of families are coming into the US without papers, and no one has the capacity to deal with them humanely.