Dueling narratives as mass releases continue

CBP, immigration lawyers, tell two different stories

A migrant man holds the hand of a young girl Thursday after arriving at Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville. (Ryan Henry/The Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — Since Tuesday, Border Patrol has released approximately 850 migrants from the McAllen processing center into downtown Brownsville.

On Saturday, community members continued to respond to the mass releases and to mistakes Border Patrol has made when releasing the migrants, including releasing people without paperwork showing federal agents had processed them or notice to appear documentation for their court dates.

This caused confusion for staff at the Good Neighbor Settlement House, which has been orienting, feeding, processing and helping the migrants obtain bus tickets or airfare to their final destinations, along with a small army of volunteers, and police and city officials.

Mayor Tony Martinez was at the scene along with Brownsville Police Department Commander James Paschall.

“Well, I’m trying to capture the essence of what is actually happening,” Martinez said as staff and volunteers hustled to and from the nonprofit’s auditorium where dozens of migrants were being fed. “What happens is we’ve now got some folks in here that are being dropped off without paperwork and frankly not at the bus station, but close thereto.”

That comment came just after 11 a.m. as officials and staff scrambled to contact Border Patrol and find out what happened.

By 1 p.m., Paschall said Border Patrol acknowledged the mistake and sent the paperwork to the Good Neighbor Settlement House so staff and volunteers could begin processing the people and sending them on their way.

That mistake followed what Martinez and City Manager Noel Bernal described on Friday as an anomaly when Border Patrol dropped off 19 people who were suffering from fevers.

“We had an anomaly yesterday where we had some folks, about 19 people actually, who had some health issues and they’re not supposed to release those either,” Martinez said. “And so we don’t know what the motivation for that type of behavior is but we know it’s illegal.”

Border Patrol is not allowed to release sick people into the public and a Border Patrol spokesperson said on Friday that sometimes people don’t display symptoms before they are released in instances where people might be suffering from something like the flu.

By 11 a.m. Saturday, Martinez said 100 people had been dropped off by Border Patrol and Paschall added that officials were expecting two more busloads, which would bring in another 100 migrants.

OVER CAPACITY?

U.S. Border Patrol Sector Chief Agent Rodolfo Karisch said last week that the mass releases, which began in McAllen roughly two weeks ago, were necessary because the Rio Grande Valley Sector’s resources are “overwhelmed and over-stretched.”

Border Patrol followed up Saturday by releasing 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.

MANUFACTURED CRISIS?

While federal officials report that facilities in the Rio Grande Valley are over capacity, some officials, volunteers and legal advocates have expressed skepticism.

“We can handle it. There’s not a crisis,” Mayor Martinez said. “I think that they think for some reason we’re some sort of drama queens. We’re not drama queens. We’re intelligent people that know how to handle situations and that’s the disconnect that they have with us.”

To Martinez, the fact that Border Patrol has released sick people and migrants without any paperwork into the community by mistake is indicative that something is wrong.

“It seems to me that there is something amiss with trying to create a situation so that it gets not manageable,” Martinez said. “And I have tremendous faith and knowledge as to the capability as to our law enforcement, our health officials. This town is very well equipped, whether it’s a hurricane, a natural disaster or whether it’s this situation right now.”

Karla Vargas, a senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said she doesn’t understand why Border Patrol is holding people for seven to eight days if the agency, which is required to hold migrants at those processing centers for no longer than 72 hours, is over capacity.

“They are stockpiling people and then they are doing these mass releases,” Vargas said. “We’ve talked to people at the bus station who said they’ve been there seven, eight days, really highlighting that they are stockpiling people in these freezing cells and then just doing these mass releases to fit the narrative the administration is trying to move forward.”

Vargas believes the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees Border Patrol, is manipulating the numbers and questions why Border Patrol is apparently taking longer than allowed to process migrants.

“I’m not sure what Border Patrol is talking about in processing,” Vargas said. “What they do is get basic information about the immigrants like where they were captured and detained.”

That gets put into a document to support charges and generates a notice to appear, Vargas said.

“It’s very boiler plate. It’s not like a document they spend a lot of time creating,” Vargas said. “They copy and paste a lot and they are full of errors.”

The amount of time Border Patrol is taking to process people doesn’t jibe with the documentation Border Patrol is producing, Vargas said.

“I’m not sure why they are taking so long to process,” she said.

All the while, some are being held in what the migrants call “hieleras,” or iceboxes because they are reportedly very cold, or in what the migrants call the “perrera,” or dog kennel, said Texas Civil Rights Project staff attorney Ricky Garza.

He said these mass releases always seem to coincide with visits from DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielson, who visited McAllen two weeks ago as the mass releases began.

“That screams manipulation,” Garza said.