TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Department of Homeland Security officials are preparing to bus migrant families more than 300 miles east into Texas so that they can deposit them in Mexico instead of releasing them in the United States while they await court hearings, according to two Trump administration officials as stated in an article from the Washington Post.
Homeland Security officials plan to announce that they will expand the Migrant Protection Protocols program to the Tucson region, one of the last major areas on the border that has not been diverting asylum seekers to Mexico to await their immigration court hearings.
CBP’s Tucson sector was not included in the initial rollout of the MPP policy, known as “Remain in Mexico.”
However, shelters in Tucson are responding to the new program.
Casa Alitas Program Director Diego Javier Piña Lopez said they heard about it Thursday night.
“I think our initial reaction was seeing what numbers we were getting today and making speculations that is because of the changes there or this or that," Lopez said. Although he doesn’t believe it’s directly related to MPP, Lopez said they did see lower numbers on Friday.
“We’re holding about 45 people right now,” he said. The shelter can hold up to 180.
Officials estimate DHS will send at least one busload each day from U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Tucson sector to El Paso, the Post reported. Migrants will have interviews to determine if they would be at risk in Mexico, and if not, will be sent across the border to Ciudad Juárez to await their U.S. immigration court hearings.
As family apprehensions plunged elsewhere, they rose more than 33 percent from May to October in the Tucson sector, from 1,700 to nearly 2,400. The Wall Street Journal first reported the releases earlier this month.
Lopez says they may start to see a decrease in numbers as the program continues, but not as low as you may think.
“Today [Friday] we’ve received several people from India, people from Russia, Romania. The demographic of who’s coming across our border is changing because how can you implement certain parts of these policies to these groups,” Lopez said.
Federal officials said Tucson lagged behind in the MPP program, mainly because it had received far fewer families crossing the border and was a less urgent target. Family arrivals in Tucson remain far lower than the tens of thousands who poured into other parts of the border earlier this year, particularly in El Paso.
But Tucson’s crossings in October surpassed those in El Paso, which counted 2,100.
More than 200 people — including one large group of 129 people — streamed into remote Sasabe, Arizona, in the Tucson sector, in a span of five hours on Saturday night. The influx demonstrates the ability of smuggling networks to identify holes on the border, officials said.
To read the full report, click HERE.
A local CBP official said people currently housed in Tucson shelters are not among those who will be transported and some other exceptions include: women who are six months pregnant or more, families with children younger than 1-year-old and people who are physically vulnerable or disabled.
Which means the bed at Casa Alitas will still be occupied at the shelter — maybe not as many, but Lopez said they have to be ready for anything.
“We’ve always had to be prepared while we’re doing this work. We’ve seen policies within this last year, policies change quite frequently and be challenged almost every time it’s been changed,” he said. "And we have to be prepared to see these numbers continue on this roller coaster of going up and down of families claiming asylum here and needing our support.”