US authorities are releasing migrant families on the Mexican border without notices to appear in immigration court or sometimes without any paperwork at all – a new move that has left some migrants confused.
The rapid releases, according to a report by The Associated Press on Thursday, eases pressure on the Border Patrol and its badly overcrowded holding facilities.
The report comes as the US is seeing an uptick in the number of people crossing the border, especially families and children travelling alone. Raul Ortiz, deputy chief of the US border patrol, told reporters on Tuesday that more than one million migrants are expected to make their way to the US’s southern border this year, further straining the nation’s capacity.
The increasing number of migrants has put pressure on the administration of US President Joe Biden, who took office in January promising to reform the nation’s immigration system and do away with “inhumane” border policies put in place by his predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden’s Republican rivals have blasted Biden’s changes, saying that they have signalled to migrants that they can now come to the US.
Biden administration officials have urged migrants not to come, saying the US needs more time to set up more efficient processing procedures, and officials have been expelling most migrants under a pandemic-related provision. But a policy allowing children travelling alone without a parent to enter the US and be reunited with a relative, has also garnered controversy.
On Tuesday night, grainy black and white security footage showed two girls from Ecuador, aged three and five being dropped over a border wall into US territory by two men believed to be human smugglers. The crowding and living conditions of the facilities where children are housed has also drawn scrutiny.
The AP’s report revealed that strained border officials have been releasing families with children aged six or younger into the US. The Border Patrol, according to the report, began the unusual practice last week in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, which has seen the biggest increase in the number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
Last week, the agency added instructions to report to an ICE office within 60 days to adults’ booking documents. But some received no documents at all, including dozens at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in the Texas border city of Mission, where about 100 migrants released by US authorities had been arriving each night to sleep on mats in classrooms in a shuttered elementary school.
Carlos Enrique Linga, 27, waited at the shelter for a week without documents along with his five-year-old daughter, hoping to join a friend in Tennessee. His wife is still in Guatemala with their two-year-old twin daughters and a three-month-old.
Linga was unwilling to leave the shelter until he was given documents and was asking Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley for help.
“We hope they can help with our papers so that we can move on, work and send [money] to my family,” said Linga, whose home in Guatemala was destroyed by storms in November. “The church has told us that there are mistakes sometimes. Because there are so many people, they forget.”
Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it stopped issuing court notices in some cases because preparing even one of the documents often takes hours.
Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of Rio Grande Valley, knows of 10 to 15 families released without any paperwork since last week, an issue that has cropped up before when there are large increases in new arrivals.
“It’s a problem, it’s a situation we need to resolve, to make sure we follow up,” she said.
Jose Sansario waited at the shelter in Mission for a week after coming from Guatemala with his wife, Kimberly, and their three-year-old daughter, Genesee.
They left their homeland in early March because a gang threatened to kill him if he did not hand over money from his car repair business. He said he heard the Biden administration was friendly to immigrants.
“We didn’t know what was true, but we had faith – faith that God would help us and that faith would allow us in,” Sansario said.