HARLINGEN — Edward Adalberto Sermeno Lemus and his daughter sat tired but happy yesterday with other undocumented immigrants at Loaves and Fishes.
They’d traveled from El Salvador and were picked up by the Border Patrol. But they would soon be on another bus to San Francisco where they have family.
“It was a very difficult trip,” said Edward, 24, as his 3-year-old daughter, all smiles, dangled her feet over her chair.
“It was the only option,” her father said, “because of the life down there and the gangs.”
He was among about 35 illegal immigrants that Customs and Border Protection dropped off at the Harlingen bus station yesterday.
Harlingen has seen an influx of immigrants since CBP began releasing them from area detention centers — including releases in Brownsville and McAllen.
Federal officials say detention facilities are so overwhelmed that they must release some of the immigrants. They are let go on their own recognizance with orders to return for immigration hearings.
Loaves and Fishes had already received 23 immigrants Friday night, said Bill Reagan, executive director of the nonprofit. Then he received a call early yesterday about 35 more immigrants waiting at the bus station.
“I’m at the bus station now,” he said. “We’re going to start bringing them over as they need. I’ve been in contact with the police department and the fire department about it so they are informed.”
The influx of immigrants at the facility began Thursday when the Border Patrol brought almost 40 women and children to the Harlingen bus station. Loaves and Fishes picked up several van loads and took them to the facility where some showered and continued on their journeys. Others stayed overnight and left the next day.
An Associated Press story says the number of immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico is so high that Border Patrol is immediately releasing them instead of transferring them to the agency responsible for their release. This is forcing local governments and nonprofits to help coordinate their housing, meals and travel.
Agents are still doing medical screenings and criminal checks. However, the decision means thousands of families will be released without first going through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which manages their deportation cases.
The Del Rio and Rio Grande Valley sectors in Texas and the Yuma, Arizona, sector earlier announced that agents would begin to release families on their own recognizance.
While arrivals this past week at Loaves and Fishes were women and children, the immigrants arriving yesterday were fathers with small children.
“I’m a little surprised by it,” Reagan said. “They all seem to be very responsible and in good shape, loving fathers, that kind of thing. I think we’ve got 35 right now but we don’t know how many there will be.”
Reagan stood at the door and welcomed the new guests.
“Bienvenidos!” he said. “Pasale! Pasale, por favor!”
He spoke to them a few moments after they took a seat.
“De donde?” he asked. Where are you from?
“Nicaragua,” some said.
“Guatemala, Honduras,” said others. They would soon head to places like Miami, Utah and Houston.
One man was traveling from Guatemala with his 11-year-old son. They’d spent 10 days on a bus.
“It’s been uncomfortable on the journey, not eating or sleeping well,” he said.
They’d spend the night at Loaves and Fishes and continue to West Palm Beach, Florida, today.
“I’m doing it to give my kids a better life, so they can be better,” he said.
Edward and his daughter America Gisell stayed at the shelter just long enough to shower and pick up some supplies before heading to San Francisco. Back at the bus station, little America dashed about in her pink top, strands of auburn hair fluttering in the air. She stopped in a moment of concern as a young girl cried in her father’s lap. A few moments later, both girls had joined several other kids in a moment of childlike fun in a new country.
The Border Patrol yesterday released statistics showing that its facilities in the Rio Grande Valley are over capacity.
According to CBP, all Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol facilities have 5,355 people in custody, or 174 percent capacity.
Those stats show the Rio Grande Valley Central Processing Center is at 132 percent capacity with 1,977 in custody and the Rio Grande Valley McAllen Station is at 358 percent capacity with 1,369 in custody.
Andrew Meehan, CBP Assistant Commissioner for Public Affairs, said in a statement released Saturday that every Border Patrol sector along the southwest border has exceeded capacity.
“ This crisis has forced CBP to seek every possible temporary solution to safely house, process, and care for those in custody,” Meehan said.
Part of that temporary solution includes immediately processing and releasing families.
“ This crisis is so critical, that for the safety of (Border Patrol) Agents and those in their custody, (Border Patrol) has begun processing non-criminal family units for immediate release under an order of recognizance based upon the current capacity issues,” Meehan said in the statement.
On Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which receives migrants from Border Patrol, said it was also reaching capacity.
ICE Spokeswoman Nine Pruneda said that beginning Monday, ICE will hold about 700 women at the Karnes Family Residential Center in an area separate from where family units are housed.
“ICE expects this temporary solution to last for about 90 days, after which it is expected that Karnes will transition back to full-time use as a family residential center,” Pruneda said in the statement. “The current volume of family units … crossing the Southwest border has overwhelmed ICE’s limited transportation resources to the point that ICE is currently only able to route a limited number of families apprehended at the border to the one other family residential center in Texas — the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, TX.”
Pruneda also said ICE adult detention space is near capacity.