Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made a brief visit to the Texas border Thursday as authorities began releasing detained migrant families onto the streets of the Rio Grande Valley almost immediately after they crossed into the U.S., saying they didn’t have enough space in facilities to accommodate soaring numbers.
Central Americans — many in families and traveling in large groups from Honduras and Guatemala — have been traveling north through Mexico to the U.S. border in growing numbers. Some are waiting in Mexico for a chance to cross at border checkpoints to seek asylum legallty, while others have become increasingly desperate, crossing the border in remote areas and even in urban areas such as El Paso, where they then turn themselves in to authorities.
The crunch has become so intense that U.S. authorities briefly stopped processing asylum cases from across the border because shelters in the El Paso area were at capacity.
Now, Nielsen said, federal authorities at the border in far South Texas are simply releasing families to await the outcome of their cases rather than sending them to federal facilities where they would normally be detained for days or weeks.
“We don’t have facilities to hold the numbers we are seeing,” said Nielsen, according to Texas Public Radio. “We’re out of detention space, so due to emergent situations at particular areas, field decisions are made as to what we can do to expedite the processing.”
More than 76,000 migrants were apprehended on the southwest border in February, an 11-year high. Authorities expect as many as 100,000 to be apprehended in March, overwhelming processing facilities from the Valley to here in El Paso.
“To mitigate risks to both officer safety and vulnerable populations under these circumstances, and due to limited bed space, CBP will begin releasing families in the RGV (Rio Grande Valley) Sector with a Notice to Appear (NTA) / Own Recognizance (OR),” CBP said in a statement.
Critics of the administration say the release of hundreds of migrants onto the streets of the Valley, something that has been happening in El Paso since October, seems timed to beef up President Donald Trump’s assertion that there is an “invasion” crisis.
The more people there are in the shelters or on the streets, the easier it is for Trump to make his case that there’s a national emergency that merits his reallocation of billions of dollars in funding to build a border wall.
“Is this a coincidence?” asked Marissa Limon, deputy director of the Hope Border Institute, a faith-based community organization that serves the El Paso, Las Cruces and Ciudad Juárez region. Limon said that she is careful about using the word crisis but that “this is a moral crisis that will dictate who we are as a community and as a people.”
Nielsen insists that the situation along the border is not a “manufactured crisis.”
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