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President Trump said this week his administration is no longer releasing migrants from custody. We're going to catch. We're not going to release. That's what the president said, but that's not what's happening right now along the southwest border. The number of migrant families apprehended there has reached record numbers. So a few weeks ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement began to release hundreds of families from custody, and that places a strain on nonprofit groups and communities along the border. From member station KRWG, Mallory Falk reports.
MALLORY FALK, BYLINE: About 40 minutes from El Paso at the Holy Cross Retreat Center in Mesilla Park, N.M., volunteers line up to greet a bus of migrant families being dropped off by ICE. About 20 parents and children step off the bus. A volunteer named Orlando Carrillo Jimenez ushers them into the retreat center.
ORLANDO CARRILLO JIMENEZ: Whoo. All right. (Speaking Spanish).
FALK: Jimenez welcomes them to the United States and explains what's about to happen; first, dinner.
JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
FALK: Next, medical evaluations. Then, volunteers will help them make travel arrangements so they can get to their final destinations - usually with relatives in other parts of the country. Jimenez has done this nearly every week for the past two years when Holy Cross started taking in migrant families. In the past along this part of the border, immigration officials would either help families arrange transportation to relatives around the U.S. or bring them to a so-called hospitality center like Holy Cross. If those centers didn't have enough space, some migrants remained in custody until there was more room. Two things changed in recent weeks. Officials aren't helping families with travel plans, and they're releasing large numbers of families regardless of whether shelters in churches have the space to accommodate them. ICE recently dropped around a hundred immigrants at a Greyhound station in downtown El Paso with no advance notice. Ruben Garcia runs the city's main immigrant shelter, Annunciation House. He hurried over to meet them.
RUBEN GARCIA: Can we cross?
FALK: Garcia quickly arranged for a nearby church to house the families and walked them there himself. Annunciation House is working with local officials to find more housing and volunteers.
JOSE RODRIGUEZ: I think it's unconscionable.
FALK: State Senator Jose Rodriguez represents El Paso.
RODRIGUEZ: And now they're just simply dumping them here in the border communities like El Paso and expecting the community to provide the support services.
FALK: Annunciation House is renting out 70 motel rooms, and the Catholic Diocese of El Paso set up an emergency shelter with dozens of cots. In a statement, an ICE spokesperson said, quote, "family units continue to cross the border at high volumes as they face no consequence for their actions" - unquote. With legal limits on how long families can be held in detention, ICE said it no longer has the capacity to review travel plans. But Rodriguez suspects these sudden releases are a political ploy to create a sense of chaos on the border right before the midterm elections. Back at Holy Cross Retreat Center, the scene is controlled chaos. Orlando Jimenez tries to figure out how to get a Guatemalan father and child to their sponsor in South Carolina. He calls up the sponsor on his cellphone and a bus company on a landline, all while looking up airfares and tossing the father pumpkin candies for his kid. He takes a moment to reflect.
JIMENEZ: You know, this is not "fake news," quote, unquote, and that's the only political statement I'm going to make. These are real people's lives. This is not a caravan. These are actual, real people that need our help.
FALK: With limited resources and already stretched thin, advocates are scrambling to make sure families don't simply end up on the street. For NPR News, I'm Mallory Falk in Mesilla Park, N.M. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.