Phoenix director: ICE not legally obligated to house released migrants

Mar 19, 2019, 4:30 AM | Updated: 12:57 pm

Henry Lucero, the Phoenix field director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is interviewed at...

Henry Lucero, the Phoenix field director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, is interviewed at his downtown office on Monday, March 18, 2019. (KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

(KTAR News Photo/Peter Samore)

PHOENIX — Does anyone have a legal obligation to house the surge of migrants fresh out of federal detention centers?

“I would answer that, no, the federal government is not appropriated to house people that they have decided to release,” said Henry Lucero, the Phoenix field director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Legally, we cannot.”

Lucero says ICE and other federal agencies can move migrants seeking asylum from bursting detention centers to bursting shelters run by charities and nongovernmental organizations.

“I know it’s not sustainable. They’re doing it with volunteer support and volunteer donations,” Lucero said Monday from his downtown office.

“From the federal level, I’m aware of no grants.”

Lucero wants Congress to allow longer detentions so agents can do more thorough jobs of processing and screening migrants.

Lucero also says that if migrants know they could be kept longer than 20 days, they could be less likely to come to the U.S. to apply for asylum.

As of now, they’re all but guaranteed admission into the U.S., effectively put on the “honor system” while they await their immigration court hearings.

In recent days, “We have accepted up to 300 people in a day to be released,” Lucero said. “Border Patrol has apprehended over 400 or 500 people in a day.”

When they are released in Arizona, migrants are given the option of walking away from the detention center or getting a ride from ICE agents to bus stations and nonprofit shelters.

“When we have limited capacity at these non-governmental organizations, we send the families with the youngest children there first,” Lucero said.

In response to migrant drop-offs, Greyhound recently stopped allowing U.S. authorities to drop off immigrant families inside bus stations, forcing those who have been released from custody to wait outside until they have a ticket.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Phoenix director: ICE not legally obligated to house released migrants