Federal immigration authorities have begun releasing immigrants of undocumented status from overcrowded detention centers in response to a sudden rush of Central American families, mostly from Guatemala, entering the United States, according to several reports.
Agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they can no longer review case files without surpassing the court mandated 20-day limit on the amount of time the federal government can detain children.
The agency began quietly releasing immigrant families over the weekend, mostly in southern Arizona, where the federal government is less equipped to properly detain children.
"In light of the incredibly high volume of [families] presenting themselves along the Arizona border, ICE no longer has the capacity to conduct [case] reviews,” Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, a spokesperson for ICE, said in a statement published by The Washington Post.
ICE began to limit case reviews on Sunday (October 7) and started releasing immigrant families awaiting court hearings, in many cases to Arizona-based charities and churches, according to news site Fronteras.
Magdalena Schwartz, a Mesa, Arizona-based pastor, told Fronteras that ICE contacted her on Friday (October 5) to secure a place for families to go once released. Schwartz said she received about 50 families over the weekend. She is working with other faith leaders to feed and clothe arriving families in the coming days.
Agents with the Department of Homeland Security describe a recent surge in immigrant families crossing the southern Arizona border recently. "We’re seeing record numbers of family units coming across," a DHS agent told The Post on condition of anonymity.
In August, the federal government apprehended 12,774 parents and children crossing the United States-Mexico border. That’s a significant spike compared to the 9,247 immigrant family members detained in July, according to figures released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Another DHS official, also speaking anonymously, told NBC News that the release of families in Arizona over the weekend is "the start of a dam breaking," as family detention centers reach capacity. "You’ll start to see this all across the southern border soon," the official added. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working to repeal the Flores agreement, which governs the way the government can interact with children of undocumented immigration status.