Tucson church housing migrant families released by ICE

KMSB 100+ immigrants at Tucson church

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Tucson church has quickly transformed to a makeshift shelter for more than one hundred people.

This comes after hundreds of asylum-seeking families, many apprehended along the Mexico border, were released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the weekend. Officials said a high number of families at ICE facilities at capacity.

The asylum-seeking families are staying at the church on their way to U.S.-based relatives.
The asylum-seeking families are staying at the church on their way to U.S.-based relatives. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Teresa Cavendish, Director of Operations at Catholic Community Services said they found out Friday that about 285 migrants would be released in the Tucson-area. That gave church leaders less than 24 hours to set up sleeping quarters and start collecting supplies from the community.

Catholic Community Services has asked Tucson News Now to not release the name or location of the church, due to safety concerns.

“There’s no political party here, there’s no church affiliation. There’s not black, white, purple, green. This is human to human," said Sister Irma, a member of the Board of Directors for Catholic Community Services.

Sister Irma said many families arrived at the church Saturday morning. She has been one of dozens of volunteers in and out of the church since.

“We are each other’s caretakers in this world, that’s the human mission," Sister Irma said.

Cavendish said volunteers go through the ICE paperwork for each family and determine the destination for their U.S.-based relatives, already listed on the paperwork. The volunteers then help the migrants reach those family members or friends, who can buy a bus or plane ticket.

“We help make sure that we are tracking their transport and get them to the places they need to be on time, which can be very complicated when you have the number of folks here that we have and the varying places they can go to," said Cavendish.

A challenge, said Cavendish, is that could be anywhere in the continental U.S. She also mentioned many families are trying to get to Florida, where Hurricane Micheal is also heading, which has caused some confusion for travel plans.

A local school has provided bags of snacks for migrant families to take with them when they leave the church.
A local school has provided bags of snacks for migrant families to take with them when they leave the church. (Source: Tucson News Now)

Cavendish said the church, acting as a shelter, is stocked with donations at this time, but Catholic Community Services is accepting donations for ‘unusual' forms of transportation, which could be used for chartering a bus or for travel not on the Greyhound routes.

If you would like to make a donation, you can do so at Catholic Community Services at 140 West Speedway Boulevard.

City of Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachick said his office is collecting supplies to donate to community-based intake centers. You can take donations to the Ward 6 City Council office at 3202 E 1st St. before 5 p.m, any day this week.

According to the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, more than 1,400 migrants have been found left by smugglers in remote areas of the Arizona-Mexico border since Aug. 20, 2018.

Here is the full statement provided to Tucson News Now, from ICE Spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe:

After decades of inaction by Congress, the government remains severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families that have no legal basis to remain in the United States. As a result, family units (FAMU) continue to cross the border at high volumes and are likely to continue to do so, as they face no consequence for their actions. Prior to releasing a FAMU within the time allotted by judicial decisions interpreting the Flores Settlement Agreement, ICE reviews their post-release plan, including ensuring they have a means to reach a final destination within the United States. This is a time and resource intensive process that can delay the release of a FAMU by several days while ICE confirms bus routes, coordinates with NGOs, and communicates with family members. There is no requirement that this review be conducted, it is a self-imposed process instituted by ICE.

In light of the incredibly high volume of FAMUs presenting themselves along the Arizona border, ICE no longer has the capacity to conduct these reviews without risking violation of the Flores limitations on lengths of stay for minors in both CBP and ICE custody. To mitigate that risk, ICE began to curtail such reviews in Arizona beginning Sunday October 7.

ICE has alerted local and state officials and reached out to NGO partners in the area who are prepared to provide assistance with transportation and/or other services. The safety of those in ICE’s custody remains the agency’s highest priority, with special attention paid to vulnerable populations. Release determinations will continue to be made on a case by case basis.


FAMUs will be enrolled in ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program, issued Orders of Recognizance prior to their release, or in some cases, paroled with supervision requirements. All will be issued a Notice to Appear in immigration court.

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