DHS and community partners to assist migrants
EL CENTRO — Local immigration officials and community groups are working together to establish an e cient and humane way to temporarily assist undocumented immigrants granted release from custody and given notices to appear in court.
The collaborative e ort is a direct result of a recent uptick in the number of family units that immigration o cials have apprehended along the Southwest border and a subsequent shift in o cials’ detention practices.
To date, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol o cials have met with several representatives of local non-governmental organizations to attempt to determine the level of resources available to assist immigrants released from local custody.
“As more NGOs hear about what we’re trying to do and reach out to us we’ll continue to collaborate,” said El Centro Sector Assistant Border Patrol Chief David Kim.
The temporary assistance from the participating NGOs would likely come in the form of local transportation, clothing, food and temporary housing for eligible immigrants.
Typically, the family units that are released from custody under alternative detention and supervision practices while they await their immigration court dates have plans to unite with family or relatives elsewhere in the United States, o cials said.
Often, those released from custody have the financial means to unite with family and sponsors elsewhere in the country. The local collaborative e ort would specifically target those individuals who may not necessarily have means to arrange transportation out of the county and who are prohibited from being detained indefinitely, Kim said.
“What we don’t want to do is just turn them out to the streets,” Kim said.
Instead, Border Patrol and ICE have sought to enlist the help of local NGOs to possibly provide certain immigrants with help arranging transportation out of the county, as well as clothing, food and temporary housing while those arrangements are being made, said Margaret Sauza, Sure Helpline Crisis Center executive director.
“At this point right now it’s just talk, but we may soon have our hands full,” Sauza said.
The local collaborative e ort has been a welcome respite from the heated rhetoric that often has accompanied discussions here and elsewhere about illegal immigration and asylum seekers, Sauza said.
After having met with both ICE and Border Patrol o cials on two separate occasions as part of the effort, Sauza said she was impressed with the o cials’ apparent concern for the immigrants’ well-being.
Among those who have pledged initial support are local church groups and other non-profits that are anticipating providing local transportation, food, clothing, temporary housing and possibly even funds for bus tickets, if necessary, Sauza said.
The meetings have also prompted a fundraising e ort to assist with meeting the migrants’ potential needs. Those interested in making a donation can contact Sure Helpline or the Calexico Brown Bag Coalition.
On Monday, representatives of various local NGOs met with immigration o cials at El Centro First United Methodist Church to discuss the collaborative e ort. The meeting was organized with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties.
The informative meeting allowed participants to ask immigration officials questions about the current situation along the Southwest border and o cials’ ongoing enforcement activities.
The meeting also should help clear misconceptions about the fully vetted immigrants who will potentially be provided assistance as part of the collaborative e ort, said Pastor Ron Gri en.
“The fact that we can communicate openly and have an understanding of the needs makes it a lot easier for us to get the word out to our community,” Griffen said.
Additional collaborative meetings are likely to further allow stakeholders to identify ways to streamline the alternative detention process and ensure vulnerable immigrants are safe, said ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack.
“We’re looking forward to continue to work with the local NGOs,” Mack said. “We’re hopeful that they are going to come back and offer assistance in the near future.”
Such collaborative efforts are likely to get underway elsewhere along the Southwest border as the result of ICE recently deciding to no longer conduct reviews of the post-release plans of families apprehended, ICE reported.
Until recently, ICE had conducted reviews of post-release plans to ensure immigrants eligible for release had secured travel arrangements to reach a final destination within the United States.
Those reviews were voluntarily curtailed on Oct. 23 as a result of a reported increase in the number of family units being apprehended at the Southwest border, according to a written statement from Sarah Rodriguez, ICE deputy press secretary.
Immigration officials are prohibited from detaining immigrant children beyond 20 days as a result of a federal court order, referred to as the Flores Settlement Agreement.
“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families with no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” Rodriguez stated. “As a result, family units continue to cross the border at high volumes and are likely to continue to do so, as they face no consequence for their actions.”
El Centro Church of Nazarene and Sure Helpline Crisis Center representatives met with El Centro Sector Border Patrol Chief Gloria Chavez (left, center) and additional agency personnel Tuesday to discuss possible collaborative e orts to assist certain immigrants who have been released from local custody.