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Immigrant support group says number of released asylum seekers continues to rise

Posted: 7:29 PM, Mar 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-08 21:29:38-05

PHOENIX — The network of volunteers who assist asylum seekers say they're at a breaking point, barely able to keep up with the volume of refugees released by ICE while their immigration status is considered.

On Friday, ICE dropped off approximately 50 asylum seekers at a bus stop near the Greyhound Terminal on Buckeye Road.

"Until this last week the Last Mile was charged with providing asylum seekers with pre-paid phones to help them get to their destinations safely," Lidia Terrazas of Last Mile Arizona says. "In the last week or so we have put all of that aside because there is a humanitarian emergency right now."

Terrazas says Last Mile's mission changed last weekend, when ICE dropped off an estimated 500 asylum seekers at the Greyhound Station because there were no churches able to accept the immigrants.

Many of the immigrants are indigenous people from Guatemala who don't speak Spanish or English.

"We had absolutely no place to put these people," Terrazas said.

Working nonstop,volunteers were able to find supplies and temporary shelter for everyone.

From December 21, 2018 until March 5, 2019 ICE reports it processed and released 14,500 people in Arizona.

ICE says it will continue to coordinate with organizations who provide assistance.

"The processing centers are overwhelmed. We are aware of that. The churches are overwhelmed. We are aware of that. We need support from local government," Terrazas says.

Over the last few days Last Mile has called city, state and federal officials seeking help. The hope is Phoenix or Maricopa County can provide temporary housing for the asylum seekers.

At the close of business Friday afternoon, the City of Phoenix reported it had just received a phone call from a Last Mile volunteer asking for assistance.

"The dynamics of operational realities are ever-changing," ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe says. "The agency makes adjustments as required to best serve the mission."

ICE says it wants to mitigate the strains placed on resources in the local community. But as the high volume of Central American families crossing the border continues, so will the number of asylum seekers entering the country.

That much we know. What is uncertain, is whether the organizations whose efforts are so vital in helping the asylum seekers, can withstand the stresses placed on their efforts.