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Packed Detention Centers Force Migrants To The Streets Of South Texas


U.S. Border Patrol says their detention centers are full, so they're releasing migrants directly into border towns. It's an apparent return to the practice President Trump has called catch and release. The Homeland Security secretary is heading to the Texas border today. Here's NPR's Joel Rose.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Volunteers along the Texas border are used to helping Central American migrants who've just been released from custody to make sure they get something to eat and drink and get on the right bus to where they're going. But this week, the numbers have jumped a lot.

ELIZABETH CAVAZOS: For at least the last couple of days, we've had what I would call a mass release - probably triple the numbers that we're used to seeing.

ROSE: Elizabeth Cavazos is a member of a group called Angry Tias & Abuelas of the Rio Grande Valley. Cavazos isn't sure if that big release in McAllen, Texas, has anything to do with Secretary Nielsen's visit to the area today. But she says the timing is suspicious.

CAVAZOS: We've been maybe too bold in stating that there is no security crisis. Stop militarizing our border. Things are fine here. Maybe to save face, they are trying to manufacture a crisis. And they're saying, oh, yeah. Try this.

ROSE: Immigration authorities flatly deny that. They insist the crisis is real. Here's Secretary Nielson on Monday.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN: There is no manufactured crisis at our southern border. There is a real-life humanitarian and security catastrophe.

ROSE: An official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection says there's not enough room to hold all of the migrant parents and children arriving at the border, so they're releasing them with a notice to appear in immigration court. Last month, more than 76,000 migrants were apprehended at the southern border - the highest monthly total in a decade. And Secretary Nielson says authorities are on pace for almost 100,000 interdictions this month.


NIELSEN: The situation at our southern border has gone from a crisis to a national emergency to a near-systemwide meltdown.

ROSE: But immigrant advocates say they're doing their best to help these migrants. And they accuse the administration of deliberately creating chaos at the border in order to support its crisis narrative. This is not the first time immigration authorities have released large groups of migrants just before an appearance by Secretary Nielson. In October, more than 700 were released in Yuma, Ariz., just days before Nielsen testified before the Senate on Capitol Hill. And around Christmas, hundreds were released in El Paso, Texas, a few days before a visit by Nielsen. Fernando Garcia is the founding director of the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso.

FERNANDO GARCIA: I think they were very, very intentional. They wanted to create the conditions for a narrative to make it appear as a crisis.

ROSE: But the administration's critics concede that record numbers of migrant families are straining the system.

JOHN SANDWEG: There's no doubt ICE is overwhelmed.

ROSE: John Sandweg is the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Obama.

SANDWEG: Those numbers will overwhelm the system quite quickly. But I think that highlights the fundamental problem - is we have not made investments in the system itself.

ROSE: Sandweg thinks the situation won't get better until the Trump administration starts treating the migrant flow as a humanitarian crisis instead of a national security threat. Joel Rose, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "LOCKED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.