More than 100 people, mostly women and children, were left to their own devices at the Tucson Greyhound station over the last two days after Department of Homeland Security officials released them on their own recognizance.
“The sheer volume of people being released is staggering. On a holiday weekend most of the buses are already booked,” said Laurie Melrood, a volunteer helping families at the station. “To release this many women and children without tickets or even information on how to purchase tickets is clearly a health and safety threat to an already vulnerable population.”
A group of about 30 people waited at the station late Tuesday, many thrusting their bus tickets at volunteers as they tried to figure out layovers and departure times to destinations across the country, including Maryland, Alabama and Florida.
For the past eight months Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol have released large numbers of families to the Greyhound station while they await their immigration court date. A handful of local volunteers have responded by visiting the station every night and providing food, phone calls, and opening their homes for families to spend the night when they are unable to get a ticket.
But recently those numbers increased, in part due to the surge of border crossers in South Texas, members of Casa Mariposa said.
So far this fiscal year, the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol sector has apprehended more than 140,000 people, with 70 percent from countries other than Mexico, mostly Central Americans. Local media report overcrowded stations, especially in McAllen, where more than 1,000 people were recently arrested in one day.
In comparison, Tucson sector Border Patrol agents have detained about 61,000 border crossers during the same period, with 18 percent being other than Mexican.
The problem with dropping off people at the Tucson Greyhound station, said Daniel Wilson with Casa Mariposa, is that it closes after its last bus departs at 11:40 p.m., leaving people without a ticket with nowhere to spend the night.
Many of them are released without food, money, adequate clothing, hygiene products or access to a phone.
Developing story, read more in Thursday’s edition of the Arizona Daily Star.