Between March 5 and April 8 – a span of 34 days – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released 9,200 migrant parents and their children to community groups in Arizona, mainly in Phoenix and Tucson, according to figures provided Wednesday by the agency. That is about 271 migrant family members released per day.
Since Dec. 21, 2018, when ICE began tracking releases, there have been 23,700 migrant parents and their children released in Arizona. Across the Southwest border region, that figure is 133,500, according to ICE. The agency said the figures are “approximated and manually reported.”
In early October, ICE began to partner with charities and faith groups in Arizona to coordinate the drop-off of large groups of migrant families at locations where volunteers help them make travel plans to meet their relatives elsewhere in the country. The families have usually spent several days in U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities before they’re transferred to ICE. ICE then processes the families and assigns them a follow-up interview before releasing them.
The families, who are mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, come to the U.S. to seek protections and have either showed up at official ports of entry or illegally crossed the border. They are mothers and fathers who come with babies, small children and teens. Some interviewed by Arizona Mirror describe fleeing threats by gangs, and lack of opportunities to build a life in their home countries.
In Arizona, most of the families are coming through the Yuma area, CBP figures show.
Figures for how many families were released to community groups before Dec. 21, 2018 were unavailable, ICE said.
ICE said the uptick in families arriving to U.S. border with Mexico coupled with court-mandated limits to how long it can hold minors in its custody prompted it to arrange the releases with charity groups.
Separately, U.S. Border Patrol began directly releasing migrant families in Yuma about two weeks ago. Border Patrol spokesman Jose Garibay said the agency won’t share figures on how many people it has released in Yuma. Border Patrol agents have also done these direct releases in Tucson.
At the time CBP announced it will begin releasing migrants to border communities across the country, the head of the agency, Commissioner Kevin K. McAleenan, said the immigration system is at a breaking point and creating an ”unprecedented humanitarian and border security crisis.”