CBP Processing Impacted with Recent Surge of Migrants
WESLACO – Thousands of immigrants seeking asylum continue passing through the Rio Grande Valley's border; but this week was different.
Hundreds were released daily to local shelters with a scheduled immigration court date.
In collaboration with The Monitor, CHANNEL 5 NEWS surveyed 100 immigrants to learn what may have led for the change in how U.S. Customs and Border Protection processed them.
Packed buses, full shelters, and crowded bus stations – these were the sights in the Valley this week.
A high number of immigrants released from CBP custody led to those scenes.
CBP sent a statement that stated there was a lack of holding space:
“CBP is committed to effectively utilizing our resources to support border security operations and ongoing humanitarian efforts. The current increase in RGV apprehensions has resulted in the limited availability of space in the RGV Central Processing Center and Stations. 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 Sector with a Notice to Appear (NTA) / Own Recognizance (OR). RGV Sector will continue to coordinate with state and local stakeholders and non-governmental organizations while these temporary measures are in place.”
Border Patrol said the places designated to process immigrants they detained were not enough.
The overcapacity sparked a temporary change in processing the same week Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen visited the Valley.
During a press conference, Secretary Nielsen stated, "Due to emergent situations at particular areas, field decisions are made as to what we can do to expedite the processing and in some cases that is releasing with an NTA, as opposed to detaining if we're out of space."
The immigrants processed said they also felt the effects of overcrowding.
Many were parents and felt they or their children got sick in those tight, congested places.
They said there was enough space to sleep. Many tells us they were shifted from one facility to another after a three-day stay or so.
The Monitor and CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke with 100 recently released immigrants at the bus station this week.
We surveyed them asking for their country of origin, how many children came with them and how long they were held in federal custody.
The majority reported staying in federal custody longer than CBP guidelines establish.
As per the National Standards on Transport, Escort, Detention and Search, or TEDS, which "reflects key legal and regulatory requirements," CBP has 72 hours to process them.
Survey results showed 62 of the 100 immigrants were held for five days or more. One person was in custody for 10 days.
If unable to see chart, click here.
We shared our findings with Laura Peña, a former ICE prosecuting attorney.
"While your survey is a sample size it's concerning," Peña says, "because it shows that over 60 percent of individuals who were apprehended by Border Patrol were in their custody for five days or longer," she says.
The influx of immigrants is handled differently in places like Tijuana and El Paso, where the U.S. government has implemented ‘Remain in Mexico’, a policy that keeps asylum seekers physically in Mexico until their immigration hearing date.
Peña agrees with the decision made in the Rio Grande Valley to release immigrants with a Notice to Appear in court.
"The difference is now they're coming with moms and sometimes dads. And so, the government doesn't have the ability to keep those families together, so they're opting – which is the correct decision – to go ahead and make sure that they're able to go to immigration court hearing dates that aren't in the detained contact," says Peña.
Nielsen clarified these releases are temporary.
"It's not a protocol, and there's no re-introduction of catch and release," she said on Thursday.
She added she's looking for laws to change, which could mean those with no legal status could be detained and deported faster.
Peña believes the solution lies beyond our border.
"The crisis in Central America is still persisting, and that's something that our foreign policy needs to address with those countries," she says.
No date was announced about when the mass releases in the Valley will stop.
In the survey, all but four of the 100 immigrant adults were traveling alone.
The remaining 96 were parents from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, one from Nicaragua and one from Mexico.