On Sunday night, ICE began dropping off asylum seekers and migrants at an El Paso bus terminal without warning local shelters that usually take in the groups after they seek asylum and are released by federal agents.
About 200 people arrived Sunday and another 200 on Monday. The total number could exceed 800 by Wednesday, according to U.S. Democratic Representative Beto O'Rourke.
Normally local ICE agents would alert the Annunciation House, a humanitarian organization with several homes throughout the city that temporarily takes in migrants and asylum seekers. That didn’t happen Sunday night, O'Rourke told reporters.
“Our challenge is that, so far, ICE has been unable to give us enough of a heads up to have those beds ready so you don’t have migrants sitting on the sidewalk or in a parking lot or in a bus station or on a Sun Metro bus,” O'Rourke told reporters.
O’Rourke said when the shelters are full, as is currently the case in the U.S.-Mexico border city of El Paso, there is typically a joint effort between city officials and ICE agents to set up temporary shelters. ICE usually gives local responders 24 hours' notice regarding any refugee drop offs.
The unannounced drop-offs come as President Donald Trump shut down part of the Executive branch because Congress wouldn’t approve US$5 billion for the massive border wall between the U.S. and Mexico last Friday.
ICE didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by local media and it’s not entirely clear what role the shutdown played in the situation.
“I know that the people that work with ICE, CBP and Annunciation House want to do what’s just, and I hope that [after] the conversations we’ve had and will have, we’ll be able to do what’s necessary," the politician told the media.
Mariel Mendez, 28, from Honduras was one of the asylum seekers suddenly left in the El Paso parking lot within the past 48 hours. She told reporters in Spanish: “We’re hoping to be able to call family in Tennessee, but so far we haven’t heard anything. They just dropped us off without” any guidance, said Mendez who traveled north by bus for over a month with her two-year-old son. She and her son turned themselves into border agents at the Texas border.
On Christmas Eve Annunciation House left a message on their Facebook page that it was never given notice that hundreds of migrants were being released without anywhere to go for food and shelter.
"Annunciation House—and our network of partner organizations and volunteers—is providing hospitality to the 200+ refugees who were dropped off by ICE last night at the Greyhound Station with no advanced notice," the organization wrote in a post asking for volunteers and donations.
"This is in addition to our ongoing work with planned refugee releases. Annunciation House has been very grateful for the community’s rapid response in meeting the urgent needs of this vulnerable population," the not read.
In a statement, Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar (D-Texas)—who is replacing outgoing Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas)—condemned ICE for showing "reckless disregard for very vulnerable people, including children. It is unacceptable."
The Trump administration has made a regular practice of denying refugees, particularly Central Americans and Mexicans, at the southern border their legal right to apply for asylum. Like no other government in recent U.S. history Trump has also attempted to, either legally or extrajudicially, tried to remove foreign-born people from the U.S.