A sudden influx of Guatemalan families into Arizona has overwhelmed detention facilities there and forced the government to release hundreds of parents and children over the past several days, says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, reports the Washington Post. Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe, an ICE spokeswoman, said the agency can no longer conduct basic reviews of migrants’ case files and travel plans without running the risk of exceeding court-imposed limits on how long children can be held in immigration jails. As a result, ICE has been dropping off busloads of families at church shelters and charities, some with ankle monitoring bracelets, others with little more than notices to appear in court.
“In light of the incredibly high volume of [families] presenting themselves along the Arizona border, ICE no longer has the capacity to conduct [case] reviews” without the risk of violating child-detention rules, O’Keefe said. “To mitigate that risk, ICE began to curtail such reviews in Arizona.” The U.S. Border Patrol has arrested soaring numbers of Central American families in the three months since President Trump halted the practice of separating migrant parents and children who enter the U.S. illegally. Groups of 100 or more have been turning themselves in to agents and requesting humanitarian refuge. “We are seeing record numbers of family units coming across,” said one Department of Homeland Security official. The department has not published border arrest totals for September, but the number of parents who arrived with children is expected to significantly exceed the 12,774 family members apprehended in August. Most families have been crossing into the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, but border agents have seen a surge in the deserts of southern Arizona, where the government has even less ability to hold families in child-appropriate conditions. The vast majority are processed and let go.