No one has accused the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of being compassionate. But leaving women and children stranded at a bus station, with nowhere else to go, as a Category 4 hurricane approaches really is something else.
Yet that’s exactly what immigration officials did to 50 Central American asylum–seekers who were released Friday from South Texas immigrant family detention centers. The group had planned on traveling on Greyhound buses throughout the U.S. to stay with family members. They even had bus tickets. But with Hurricane Harvey quickly approaching, Greyhound canceled bus service Friday afternoon.
As San Antonio’s Rivard Report noted:
“They’ve just gotten out of family detention centers and passed their credible fear interview so they were on their way to their families,” said Sister Denise LeRock, a member of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition who aided the immigrants at the station. “We were told yesterday that no buses are running tomorrow, so Congressman Lloyd Doggett [D-San Antonio] called ICE to not drop families at the bus station.”
According to Doggett, ICE assured the congressman that everyone would be dropped off before bus service was canceled. But that didn’t happen.
Interfaith Welcome Coalition scrambled to organize city officials, other NGOs, and a local church to help out. The church, called Corazon Ministries, agreed to take in the 50 women and children, along with about 100 homeless people. The city sent blankets and cots, and a local food bank sent water and food on Saturday, Rivard Report said.
Jonathan Ryan, who directs the nonprofit group Raices, which helps immigrant families released from the region’s two family detention centers at Karnes City and Dilley, told Rivard Report that, “As far as ICE was concerned, these people were going to sit and starve in the bus station for days. They executed their plan and not a thought was given about these people during [a natural disaster].”
The two family detention centers, which opened in 2014 as a response to a wave of families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the U.S., have about 2,200 beds. Some former asylum-seekers detained there refer to them in Spanish as the “doghouse.”
For local churches and groups like Interfaith Welcome Coalition, ICE’s actions on Friday weren’t surprising. Last year, volunteers had to step in—and were then overwhelmed—when immigration officials released hundreds of Central American women and children from family detention centers with nowhere else to go.
That time, some 500 people were dropped off in one weekend alone, and they didn’t have bus or plane tickets, or any money, the San Antonio Express–News reported. As people kept coming, the church struggled to find the space and resources to accommodate them. But at least that time, volunteers didn’t have to worry about an oncoming hurricane.