Increase in Illegal Immigration Spurred by False Rumor of ‘Haven’ for Families

Michelle Lewis of Phoenix, right, helps Doris Suyapa of Honduras at the Greyhound bus station. An immigrant encampment has sprung up at the Phoenix bus station after people were dropped off by U.S. officials. (Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)
Michelle Lewis of Phoenix, right, helps Doris Suyapa of Honduras at the Greyhound bus station. An immigrant encampment has sprung up at the Phoenix bus station after people were dropped off by U.S. officials. (Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Yoselin Ramos had long wanted to trek to the United States to escape the crushing poverty and rising violence in her hometown in Guatemala.

But it wasn’t until the 24-year-old heard about a “new opportunity” that she packed a bag and left her home with her 3-year-old son, Yovani, for the treacherous journey north.

Ramos became part of an unprecedented surge of families crossing illegally into the U.S., drawn by reports circulating throughout Central America that parents with children are allowed to stay in the United States indefinitely, according to Guatemalan consular officials and parents who are making these trips. But these families, U.S. officials say, are getting only half the story.

The surge of single parents and children has surprised and overwhelmed border agents in the Southwest — particularly Texas — and flooded the Greyhound bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson over the last several months with hundreds of immigrant families dropped off there by U.S. immigration authorities who had nowhere else to put them.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, federal officials flew at least 400 migrants apprehended in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas to Tucson to be processed, said Andy Adame, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Arizona.

From there, many were dropped off at bus stations with orders to appear before immigration authorities at their chosen destination within 15 days. “The Border Patrol does not have enough space in its processing facilities to handle a surge in illegal immigrants in south Texas,” Adame said.

The unusual situation represents not a change in policy but an attempt to accommodate the unexpected numbers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said. Immigration authorities have recently opened shelters on military bases in Texas and California for the wave of children crossing the U.S. border in ever-greater volumes in recent months. Detention centers are available for adult immigrants. But there are no similar facilities for families, at least in the Southwest.

In 2008, immigration officials stopped placing parents traveling with their children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, after allegations surfaced of human rights violations at the facility.

The fact that so many parents with children have been freed to travel within the U.S. has sent rumors flying through Central American nations that parents will not be detained in the U.S. if they arrive with a child — spurring even more families to launch the journey, according to immigrant advocates and Guatemalan consular officials in Phoenix who have been working to help find shelter for families stranded at bus stations.

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SOURCE: CINDY CARCAMO 
The Los Angeles Times

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