SAN BERNARDINO (CBSLA) – Hundreds of asylum seekers were being released in San Bernardino this week as U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it does not have the resources to handle the large number of people coming over the U.S.-Mexico border.
For several days now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection vans filled with Central American immigrant families have been driving from the El Centro Border Patrol Station in Imperial to a Greyhound bus station at West 6th and North G streets in San Bernardino.
CBS2 initially reported Tuesday that the immigrants were being bussed from the Murrieta Border Patrol station. This was based on information from volunteers with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice who are helping the immigrants once they arrive in San Bernardino. However, on Wednesday, CBP informed CBS2 that the immigrants arriving in San Bernardino are coming from El Centro, not Murrieta.
Immigrant advocacy groups told CBS2 Tuesday that they have helped nearly 200 immigrants who have been dropped off at the bus station. Volunteer groups and the Catholic Church are paying to transport these immigrants to different locations.
"Yesterday we got three vans, 37 people in total, half of them are children," immigrant activist Ericka Flores told CBS2 Tuesday.
Flores believes the immigrants are being sent to San Bernardino specifically because of the city's scarce resources.
"Why San Bernardino?" Flores asks. "I think it's very intentional."
Ralph DeSio, a CBP spokesman, told CBS2 in an email Wednesday that approximately 120 to 135 immigrants are being flown in to San Diego from the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector in Texas about three times per week. The immigrants are then processed at one of San Diego's eight Border Patrol stations before being turned over to ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations.
DeSio said he cannot confirm exactly when the flights are coming in or exactly which of the eight stations the immigrants are being processed in.
In a statement last week, CBP said that since March 19, 40,000 illegal immigrants have been released from processing centers and ordered to appear in court for their asylum hearings.
"Due to capacity limitations at many U.S. Border Patrol stations on the southern border, and the limited capacity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to accept transfer of family units, on March 19, CBP began releasing non-criminal, processed family units. To date, CBP has released more than 40,000 family unit aliens on a Notice to Appear (NTA) / Own Recognizance (OR)."
The statement went on: "As non-governmental organizations have reached their capacities, CPB has released family units at transportation hubs during daylight hours when the weather does not endanger those released."
However, Flores claims that 12 immigrants were dropped off in San Bernardino around 10 p.m. Monday.
"Cold, no food, no money," she said.
Flores says she has been working tirelessly with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice to find the families shelter.
"These families are fleeing poverty, they're fleeing hunger," Flores said.
All this comes after an unknown number of immigrants were brought into the Murrieta Border Patrol station over the weekend, also from Texas. On Monday, Murrieta police told CBS2 that they had been assured by the CBP that no immigrants would be released onto the streets of Murrieta after being processed.
Ronald Zermeno, a former Border Patrol agent in Murrieta, believes his former colleagues are overwhelmed by a broken system. Zermeno retired after whistleblowing to the media back in 2014 regarding the conditions staff and immigrants were facing at the Murrieta facility.
He questions CBP's approach to the problem.
"Historically, over 80 percent don't show up to court," Zermeno told CBS2.
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