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"In a lot of cases, we're see­ing kids who haven't had any­thing to eat in two days," said Hunter Dem­ster, a lo­cal ac­tivist and one of the or­ga­niz­ers of the aid ef­fort. "Or they're ar­riv­ing with­out jack­ets and trav­el­ing through cold weather."

A spokesman with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, Carl Rus­nok, said he couldn't say why the Cen­tral Amer­i­cans are pass­ing through Mem­phis.

But the sit­u­a­tion ap­par­ently has to do with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment's re­cent de­ci­sion to re­lease fam­i­lies who cross the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der il­le­gally or come seek­ing asy­lum, rather than keep­ing those fam­i­lies de­tained. The re­leased mi­grants are given in­struc­tions to ap­pear later in im­mi­gra­tion court.

Many Grey­hound buses on na­tional routes make stops at the Mem­phis ter­mi­nal, on Air­ways Boule­vard near the air­port.

Sil­via Leti­cia Gar­cia, the 41-year-old mother of Naomi, who wore a pink hat, wore an ex­pres­sion of con­fu­sion. She showed a re­porter her bus pass, a map of the U.S. with her route from Texas, and a sheaf of im­mi­gra­tion doc­u­ments.

"They gave us so many pa­pers," she said. As she and the chil­dren lined up to take the next bus, she said she was grate­ful for the help from the Mem­phis aid group. "Ah, it's good."

Sto­ries of hitch­hik­ing and a vol­cano

47-year-old Jose Luis Her­nan­dez of Gu­atemala was trav­el­ing on Fri­day with his wife and two chil­dren: a three-year-old girl, and a 14-month-old boy.

"The rea­son for leav­ing my coun­try is there's no work," he said. "A lot of vi­o­lence. And my kids need their food. That's it."

He said the fam­ily had turned them­selves in to U.S. im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties near McAllen, Texas and spent three days in de­ten­tion. He was re­leased with an an­kle mon­i­tor and a Catholic church of­fered food and ori­en­ta­tion. He said the fam­ily was now headed to Hunt­ing­ton, New York, where a friend lives.

It was Fri­day, and he said he hadn't eaten since Wed­nes­day. His wife and chil­dren ea­gerly ate from the sack lunches given to them.

54-year-old Ricky Pena of Hon­duras said he and his 16-year-old son had spent days walk­ing and hitchik­ing through Mex­ico to the U.S. bor­der.

And broth­ers Car­los Gomez, 40, and Juan Chen, 39, said they're farm­ers of cof­fee, beans and corn and their har­vests were de­stroyed in a re­cent erup­tion of the Fuego vol­cano in Esquintla, Gu­atemala. They were trav­el­ing Thurs­day with two boys, ages 10 and 15, and said they'd left their wives at home as they headed to New York.

Im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties stopped them at the bor­der, but Gomez said they weren't mis­treated.

"There, they re­ceived us with love," he said.

He said they were de­tained, then re­leased. They trav­eled from Phoenix to Dal­las, and said they didn't know the name of the town or city in New York where they were go­ing.

Char­i­ta­ble group forms to help

Some peo­ple in the new aid or­ga­ni­za­tion say the group is in­for­mally called Im­mi­gra­tion is Beau­ti­ful.

A key vol­un­teer is lo­cal ac­tivist Ivan Flores. He said the first large bus of mi­grants came around 4 a.m. Sun­day, Oct. 28.

He said One of the ear­li­est lead­ers of the aid ef­fort was Laura Cole­man with a group called Show­ing Up for Ra­cial Jus­tice. Cole­man said a con­tact in Dal­las told her that about 30 Cen­tral Amer­i­cans would be pass­ing through Mem­phis. Vol­un­teers started gath­er­ing aid.

It soon be­came clear the sit­u­a­tion would last for days, and the ef­fort ex­panded, with peo­ple bring­ing items to First Con­gre­ga­tional Church in Mid­town, she said.

They're co­or­di­nat­ing do­na­tions through an­other grass­roots ad­vo­cacy group, the Mem­phis Fem­i­nist Col­lec­tive.

Early Thurs­day, mem­bers of the coali­tion said of­fi­cials at the Grey­hound bus ter­mi­nal had banned the group from dis­tribut­ing aid to the mi­grants, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion was soon let back in.

An­kle mon­i­tors, some­times

The Ari­zona Repub­lic re­ported last month that the gov­ern­ment has be­gun re­leas­ing large num­bers of peo­ple ar­riv­ing along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der.

The re­leases come in re­sponse to a surge of Cen­tral Amer­i­can fam­i­lies ar­riv­ing at the bor­der and a lack of de­ten­tion space, it re­ported.

The gov­ern­ment also said it was re­leas­ing the fam­i­lies to avoid vi­o­lat­ing a le­gal de­cree called the Flores set­tle­ment, which lim­its the amount of time mi­grant chil­dren can be held in de­ten­tion cen­ters.

The adults in the fam­ily are given an an­kle mon­i­tor, re­leased into the cus­tody of rel­a­tives liv­ing in the United States and given a hear­ing at an im­mi­gra­tion court sev­eral weeks later, ac­cord­ing to The Ari­zona Repub­lic.

Pena, the fa­ther was trav­el­ing with his 16year-old son, was among the men at the sta­tion who said they weren't is­sued an an­kle mon­i­tor. He said he'll meet his re­quire­ments in im­mi­gra­tion court any­way. "I re­spect the laws of the United States."

The gov­ern­ment has long re­leased some peo­ple who have en­tered the United States il­le­gally or ar­rived at the bor­der seek­ing asy­lum. They've typ­i­cally been given pa­per­work to ap­pear in im­mi­gra­tion court later. Some don't come to court and get de­por­ta­tion or­ders.

The pol­icy, dubbed "catch-and-re­lease" by op­po­nents, stands in sharp con­trast to Pres­i­dent Trump's highly pub­li­cized de­ci­sion shortly be­fore the midterm elec­tions to send the mil­i­tary to stop a big car­a­van of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans try­ing to make their way to the U.S.

In many cases, re­leased mi­grants wait years for a hear­ing be­fore an im­mi­gra­tion judge. Many claim asy­lum, and many asy­lum claims are de­nied — the poverty and ex­treme gang vi­o­lence com­mon in Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries usu­ally doesn't fit the asy­lum cri­te­ria.

Re­tired Mem­phis im­mi­gra­tion judge Charles E. Pazar has said asy­lum seek­ers must show cred­i­ble fear of per­se­cu­tion based on at least one of the fol­low­ing: race, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, po­lit­i­cal opin­ion, or mem­ber­ship in a par­tic­u­lar so­cial group.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion on Tues­day an­nounced new rules to deny asy­lum to any­one who en­ters il­le­gally. Ad­vo­cates for im­mi­grants ar­gue the pres­i­dent is over­step­ping the law, and a le­gal chal­lenge ap­pears likely.

Ac­cord­ing to a USA TO­DAY re­port, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union is seek­ing a court in­junc­tion to block Trump's new re­stric­tions on asy­lum, ar­gu­ing in a law­suit filed Fri­day that the pol­icy vi­o­lates fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion law.

“The new asy­lum ban is flatly un­law­ful and may re­sult in many peo­ple be­ing sent back to dan­ger," said Lee Gel­ernt, deputy di­rec­tor of the ACLU's Im­mi­grants' Rights Project.

“Nei­ther the Pres­i­dent nor the At­tor­ney Gen­eral may over­ride the im­mi­gra­tion laws en­acted by Congress,” Gel­ernt said. The ACLU, along with the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter and the Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tional Rights, filed the law­suit on be­half of sev­eral refugee and im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy groups in fed­eral court in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia on Fri­day.

Mean­while, the vol­un­teers said they plan to meet every bus that's com­ing from a bor­der area. And for now, Naomi Gar­cia and her fam­ily will start a new life in Ten­nessee.


Ani­bal Lopez Funes, a 39-year-old Gu­atemalan im­mi­grant, poses for a por­trait in­side the Grey­hound bus sta­tion in Mem­phis on Thurs­day. DANIEL CONNOLLY / THE

Mi­grant chil­dren stand in front of tents in the makeshift refugee camp at the north­ern Greek bor­der point of Idomeni, Greece, in 2016. The U.N. refugee agency pulled out staff Tues­day from fa­cil­i­ties on Les­bos and other Greek is­lands be­ing used to de­tain refugees and mi­grants as an in­ter­na­tional deal with Turkey came un­der fur­ther strain. AP PHOTO/DARKO VO­JI­NOVIC

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