SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Customs and Border Patrol released 50 apprehended immigrants in McAllen, Texas, on Tuesday due to a lack of available detention space, with over 200 additional undocumented immigrants set to be released Wednesday.
When immigrants are detained by Border Patrol officials, they are normally transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be processed and placed in detention facilities. However, officials told the Los Angeles Times that neither agency has available space due to an increase in the amount of Central American families crossing the border.
As the Deseret News previously reported, more than 76,000 undocumented immigrants crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in February, more than double the number that crossed during the same time period in 2018. More than 90 percent of those immigrants were from Guatemala, and 65 percent were either children traveling alone or families traveling together.
"The system is well beyond capacity and remains at the breaking point," Kevin McAleenan, commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, told reporters in February.
Immigrants' rights advocates voiced concerns that Border Patrol is releasing immigrants in order to make it seem as if there is a crisis at the border.
Zenen Jaimes Perez, advocacy director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Los Angeles Times, "Why do this now? It doesn't make sense. This isn't something they've done before."
In the past, border officials have been faced with larger influxes of immigrants. Border arrests have been down in recent years. In 2017, the number of immigrants intercepted at the border was the smallest in decades, with 310,531 arrests. The last time there were so few arrests was in 1971.
However, fiscal year 2019 has seen an uptick in the number of immigrants crossing the border, with 237,327 immigrants apprehended along the border since October. That's a 97 percent increase from the previous year.
A Border Patrol officer told the Los Angeles Times that officials weren't releasing the immigrants to make a political statement.
"It is a crisis," he said. "It's not a self-proclaimed crisis."
According to the Los Angeles Times, the 50 immigrants released Tuesday were sent to Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and the 200 immigrants set to be released Wednesday will also be sent to Catholic Charities' local respite center.
But that center is already operating at full capacity as well, caring for over 900 immigrants. Another temporary center was opened this week to handle the influx, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to Esquire, the McAllen, Texas, detention center is the largest in the U.S. with a capacity of 1,500 immigrants. Border Patrol officials had been transferring around 700 to 800 immigrants per day to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but as the Deseret News previously reported, the agency lacks adequate space for both families and single adults and is currently detaining over 50,000 adults, the highest number ever.
With detention centers at full capacity, it is increasingly falling on volunteers, church leaders and other community members to take in immigrants and help them find a place to stay.
Also on Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in the case Nielsen v. Preap that undocumented immigrants and green card holders can be arrested and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement indefinitely for having committed crimes that would trigger deportation, and held without bail. This applies to immigrants who were released from custody years ago, as well as those who already completed their sentences or paid their fines. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the dissent, argued that the ruling deprives immigrants of due process.15 comments on this story
The justices in the majority argued that "it would be 'too risky' to let terrorists or dangerous criminals go free while deportation was pending," David Savage wrote in the Los Angeles Times. "But their opinion conceded the law is so broad it also sweeps in nonviolent 'drug offenders and tax cheats.'"
The ruling overturned a 2016 ruling by California's 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that held undocumented immigrants were not subject to mandatory detention if they were not "promptly" taken into custody after being released from jail or prison.