Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have confirmed that the Karnes County Family Residential Center is processing undocumented immigrants and releasing them within 72 hours.
“The families that come into ICE custody will be housed in a manner consistent with legal requirements for the safety and well-being of children and their parents or guardians,” said Monica Yoas, Public Affairs Officer for the San Antonio Field Office.
“Custody is intended to be short term, generally less than 72 hours, to allow for immigration enforcement processing and establishing appropriate terms and conditions of release while their immigration proceedings continue,” said Yoas.
Yoas said all families are being tested for COVID-19 and receive a health assessment. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will remain in quarantine for 10 days.
“ICE will apply its family residential standards as its quality of care model for all of those housed at a family residential centers or contracted shelters, with modifications to educational services at both and limited recreational facilities at the hotels,” said Yoas.
“Families will be provided clothing, meals and snacks, access to medical care, legal counsel, unlimited phone access, and individual rooms for appropriate physical distancing.”
Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva said he has weekly meetings with GEO Group, Inc. Wardens, who are under an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE.
“Due to the situation at the border we have been in contact regarding information about the release of these individuals,” he said. “They are being released to sponsors and transported to the San Antonio area or elsewhere. They are not released to the streets of Karnes County.”
Sheriff Villanueva said phone calls from local residents have been increasing regarding rumors of undocumented immigrants.
“I know the citizens are concerned or worried about the overflow being portrayed in the media,” he said. “At this time we are not responding to bailouts and we are coordinating with the facilities about releases.”
Sheriff Villanueva said he and detention center officials also discussed concerns about protests or demonstrations.
“There is a miscommunication somewhere and I want them to feel safe,” he said. “Just because apprehensions at the border and checkpoints are high- does not mean they are all coming to Karnes County.”
He said the sheriff’s office and Karnes City Police Department are monitoring the situation as consternation from the public continues to grow.
Yaos confirmed undocumented immigrants are being processed daily and said numbers fluctuate on a day-to-day basis but said exact statistics are not available at this time.
“ICE will continue to coordinate with non-governmental organizations to provide families with temporary shelter upon their release, as well as food, water, clothing, and transportation services to help mitigate strains placed on resources in the local community,” said Yoas.
Yoas said she could not confirm which checkpoints the undocumented immigrants were coming from, or which non-profits were serving as sponsors.
Fred Schellenberg from the American Organization for Immigrants, which provides multiple services to immigrants, said he conducts credible fear interviews to assist the US Citizenship and Immigration Services with the asylum process.
“Different organizations provide transportation to San Antonio then volunteers with the Interfaith Welcome Coalition like myself help at the bus stations or airports to get them to their destination.”
A query to Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), another nonprofit organization located in San Antonio, about their involvement with the Karnes County Family Residential Center release process, was not answered in time for press.
A query to the City of San Antonio Immigration Liason, Tino Gallegos, was not returned.
In a statement by Homeland Security Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas released on March 16, he confessed to the situation at the southwest border being difficult and outlined plans and progress made by the DHS.
He explained that in more than 80 percent of cases involving unaccompanied children, the child has a family member in the United States.
In more than 40 percent of these cases, that family member is a parent or legal guardian.
These children are being reunited with their families who will care for them.
He also stated that the Border Patrol facilities have become overcrowded with children and the 72-hour time frame for the transfer of children from the Border Patrol to HHS is not always met.
Mayorkas explained that the poverty, high levels of violence and corruption in Mexico and the Northern Triangle have been the main challenges with intake numbers rising.
He stated as for the “Path Forward”, DHS and HHS are creating joint processing centers so that children can be placed in HHS care immediately after Border Patrol encounters them. They are also identifying and equipping additional facilities for HHS to shelter unaccompanied children until they are places with family or sponsors.
In conclusion, Mayorkas stated DHS are “keeping our borders secure, enforcing our laws, staying true to our values and principles. We can do so because of the incredible talent and unwavering dedication of our workforce.”
ICE officials declined on-site interviews and photos due to COVID-19 restrictions.