Overwhelmed and underprepared, US officials are releasing migrant families on the Mexican border without notices to appear in immigration court, and in some cases without any documentation at all — a time-saving measure that leaves migrants puzzled.
The fast releases reduced the pressure on the Border Patrol and its overcrowded holding areas, but they also transfer work to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is responsible for enforcing immigration laws within the US. Only the parents are photographed and fingerprinted, and households are given booking records if they obtain any documents at all.
Last week, the Border Patrol started an unprecedented procedure in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, where the number of migrant families and unaccompanied minors crossing the border has risen the most. Adults’ booking papers were updated with reminders to report to an ICE office within 60 days. however, some obtained no paperwork at all, including hundreds at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Mission, Texas, where about 100 migrants released by US authorities were sleeping on mats in classrooms in a shuttered elementary school each night.
Carlos Enrique Linga, 27, and his 5-year-old daughter waited at the shelter for a week without papers, expecting to visit a friend in Tennessee. Linga refused to leave the shelter until he received the paperwork and sought assistance from Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
The Border Patrol is supervised by Customs and Border Control, which said it has stopped providing court notices in certain cases because processing each one of the documents would take hours. Migrants are subjected to background checks and COVID-19 testing. The organisation declined to state how many migrants were released without court notices or any paperwork at all.
At their 60-day check-ins with ICE, migrants will be given notices to appear in court, according to a US official with direct knowledge of the arrangements who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans have not been made public. It’s unclear how prevalent the activity is, but it’s very frequent in the Rio Grande Valley, which is the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings.
According to Chris Cabrera, a spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, preparing a court appearance notice will take an hour to 90 minutes. Cabrera, who works in the Rio Grande Valley, said, “Honestly, I think it’s nice because it’s less paperwork for our people.”