Central American immigrants prepared to travel to other cities after a judge blocked a new immigration policy that stranded hundreds of aliens in south Texas while their asylum requests were processed.
U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela blamed the policy for a sharp increase in the number of Central Americans living in makeshift camps and condemned buildings in Cameron County, Texas' southernmost county."I am a human being; I do live in this community," Vela said Monday as he issued a temporary restraining order suspending the policy.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, under the Dec. 16 policy, told applicants they could not travel from the area or work while awaiting a decision on their asylum status, a period of at least 30 days.
They said the policy was intended to curb the backlog of cases in other cities, particularly Miami and Los Angeles, and reduce applications from those entering the country for economic reasons, not political.
The judge's order came in a lawsuit by advocates for the aliens that accused the INS of improperly changing the policy and depriving asylum-seekers of their rights to representation and access to the asylum process as required under the Refugee Act of 1980.
Vela will hold another hearing on the lawsuit Thursday.
Vern Jervis, an INS spokesman in Washington, said the agency will contest the restraining order.
One plaintiff attorney, Linda Reyna Yanez, said she expected "a substantial exodus" from the area by Thursday.
"We're going to advise people that they do not have to live here in the (Rio Grande) Valley in the rain and the cold and vacant lots, that they can now be with their family, with their friends and they can pursue their asylum claims in those cities," said Mark Schneider, an attorney with Proyecto Libertad, a co-counsel to the lawsuit filed Friday.
About 300 people had set up camp in a field across from the filled shelter but most had left by Monday. The owner of the land had posted "No Trespassing" signs on the property Sunday, and the campers had been told to leave.
Cameron County Sheriff Alex Perez on Monday gave them an extra 24 hours, but most had found shelter elsewhere by Monday night.