The Trump administration released hundreds of asylum seekers in Arizona this week without following protocols to ensure they can reunite with relatives or get to their court date, NBC News reports.
“This is the start of a dam breaking,” a senior officials in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told NBC News. “You’ll start to see this all across the southern border soon.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began releasing migrants from swelling family detention centers without reviewing their travel plans on Sunday in order to comply with a court settlement, according to agency spokesperson Yasmeen O’Keefe.
That settlement, called the Flores Agreement, governs how long and under what conditions the government can detain migrant children and their families. The Trump administration has blamed the agreement for its short-lived policy of separating of children from parents who crossed the southwest border illegally.
The administration has proposed new rules on immigrant detention that could result in detaining children and their families longer, but for now, the Flores Settlement remains in place.
The migrants have ankle monitors to track their whereabouts, but it’s not clear where they will go or who will care for them — especially if the surge in abrupt releases becomes a flood.
Over the weekend, the weight of the new policy fell on churches and other local nonprofits that had to pick up the slack by providing food, shelter, and transportation to reunite with their families.
One church representative who spoke with NBC News and asked not to be named said ICE brought 100 migrants to her church on Monday night after getting notice over the weekend. No one has told the church what policy is driving the decision, the woman said — they just know the number of people they’re helping now has more than doubled.
“We are all sitting here, all volunteers, all running around making sure we have enough pizza to feed lunch to everyone,” she said. “We spend so much time with the minutiae that we really don’t know what’s going on.”
Trump has ridiculed asylum seekers, and his administration has has moved to make the asylum process more difficult and burdensome on those seeking refuge in the United States from what is often serious danger in their home countries.
“‘I fear for my life.’ Say that, congratulations. You’ll never be removed,’” Trump said in June before lamenting the help lawyers give asylum seekers at the border. “In a way, that’s cheating.”