News: San Antonio Express News: ICE agrees to announce big releases
ICE agrees to announce big releases
By Jason Buch
Published December 13, 2016
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has agreed to give 24-hour notice before future large releases of families that will require assistance from San Antonio aid workers, according to people who attended a meeting with the agency over the weekend.
ICE has also said that the numbers of families released over the weekend of Dec. 3-4 was not unusually high; what was unusual was how many were released without travel documents.
On a given day, hundreds of women and children might be released from the family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes City, but the vast majority quickly board buses or airplanes, ICE officials told those at the meeting, said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-San Antonio.
ICE San Antonio Field Office Director Daniel Bible promised “he would take steps to make sure it wouldn’t happen again” and pledged to provide notice to the city and to aid groups like Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services if future releases are imminent, Doggett said.
“There will be 24-hours notice to the city … and the same notice to RAICES or any group like Catholic Charities that they're expecting to care for incoming asylum seekers,” he said. “Secondly, they will not have anyone, barring extraordinary circumstances, that comes to the city after 9 in the evening.”
During the meeting, Bible said there was a miscommunication about the number of families going to the San Antonio Mennonite Church, according to ICE.
The number of people released that weekend “was within the average number of our recent releases” the agency said. “However, a higher percentage of family units during that weekend did not have prior travel arrangements, so ICE referred a larger than usual number of people to local nongovernmental organizations following their release from ICE custody.”
Aid workers were overwhelmed Dec. 3-4 by the release of nearly 500 women and children, some of them well after midnight. Almost all were bound for other cities in the U.S. and hundreds didn’t have bus or airplane tickets.
The Mennonite Church served as a temporary shelter, with air mattresses filling rooms and hallways, but the city deemed those unsafe conditions.
District 4 Councilman Rey Saldaña praised Bible for taking responsibility but expressed frustration with what he described as an unwillingness on ICE’s part to provide details about who they’d be releasing.
“They were almost allergic to sharing information with the city,” Saldaña said.
“The folks who were responsible for this could not assure us that this would not happen again.”
His concerns were echoed by Jonathan Ryan, RAICES’s executive director.
Saldaña said the city needs to know whether families will need treatment, how many have travel documents and, for those using the bus, how many have unconfirmed tickets, which means they’re not guaranteed a seat on a bus that day.
The city needs that information to know whether to create additional shelter space or arrange for more police officers, Saldaña said.
“It was worse than listening to a meteorologist,” he said. “I could not get a good sense if we should be preparing for a storm every single day, or if we have a willing partner who’s going to let us know we need to be boarding up the windows.”
District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño said he came out of the meeting with a more positive outlook.
He said the city has designated Department of Human Services Director Melody Woosley as a point person who ICE can communicate with about future releases and that opening lines of communication with ICE was “absolutely a benefit.”