No more than 12 people remain at a North Phoenix church as of Thursday afternoon, after it took in more than 100 people released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The minister at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ told ABC15 the church took in 104 people in recent days after they left ICE custody. Most all have left to connect with their families across the country.
On Thursday, ABC15 sat down with the ICE Field Office Director in Phoenix, Henry Lucero. Lucero says the process of releasing families as they wind through the immigration court process isn't new, but as of October 7, they are increasing the number of families released from custody. Those who are released are equipped with ankle monitors, and have a set of conditions they must follow during the process.
"What's changed since Sunday is...that the volume of who we're releasing to the faith-based organizations has increased," Lucero said. "There was a backlog of people in CBP (Customs and Border Protection) custody...people waiting to go to ICE. We've effectively eliminated that backlog."
Lucero says a "loophole" allows for families to cross the border, whether to seek asylum or otherwise, knowing they might be released from custody. For families detained by immigration authorities, under a settlement agreement and subsequent decision, unaccompanied children or families can only be held in custody for 20 days before being released while their cases work their way through immigration courts.
"There's an absolute loophole," Lucero said. "ICE only has the ability to detain a family unit in our family residential centers for about 20 days. That process of going through an immigration proceeding will never happen in that short amount of time."
According to statistics from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the number of "family units" apprehended along the Southwest Border saw it's highest total in August of the past eleven months.
It is unclear how many people total have been released from custody in Arizona since ICE increased the volume on Sunday.