A Church Rescued 50 Asylum Seekers Whom ICE Abandoned at a Bus Station During Hurricane Harvey

Lead Photo: Vincente Navas (L) and Alma Barrientos stand outside their home in the Cottage Grove neighborhood which has been inundated with floodingf from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images News
Vincente Navas (L) and Alma Barrientos stand outside their home in the Cottage Grove neighborhood which has been inundated with floodingf from Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017 in Houston, Texas. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images News
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Before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, several publications exposed how vulnerable the storm made undocumented immigrants. The Texas Tribune, for example, reported that the United States Border Patrol wouldn’t shut down its roadside immigration checkpoints north of the Rio Grande Valley, making it so that many undocumented immigrants had to choose between staying put in a potentially life-threatening situation or evacuating and potentially being arrested. (The US Customs and Border Protection eventually closed down the checkpoints.) Rewire also detailed how at privately owned immigrant detention centers, there was seemingly no evacuation plans in place, which is completely unacceptable when these detention centers have essentially taken undocumented immigrants’ agency away. And over the weekend, Rivard Report reported the news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement left about 50 asylum seekers – many from Central America – stranded at a bus depot. NOWCast SA broke the story with a Facebook video.

ICE leaves refugees stranded at San Antonio bus station

Despite a call from Rep. Lloyd Doggett asking them not to do it, ICE dropped about 50 Central American women and children at the San Antonio bus station on Aug. 25 as Hurricane Harvey approached the city. Sister Sharon Alterdorf, a member of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition said the move by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) left the women and children stranded because no buses are running during the hurricane. Hours later, representatives of the City of San Antonio Department of Human Services and the Interfaith Welcome Coalition found a safe place where the women and children can stay until the storm is over and buses start running again.

Posted by NOWCast SA on Friday, August 25, 2017

According to BuzzFeed, ICE releases undocumented immigrants who have demonstrated credible fear in their asylum case interviews at bus stations so that they can wait out the time it takes for their cases to move through the courts with sponsors and families. ICE dropped off more than 50 immigrant women and children set to travel to different parts of the country at a bus station in downtown San Antonio on Friday. Greyhound was running until 5 p.m., but eventually canceled buses because of the inclement weather.

“They’ve just gotten out of family detention centers and passed their credible fear interview so they were on their way to their families,” said Sister Denise LaRock, a member of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, which helped rescue the stranded immigrants. “We were told yesterday that no buses are running tomorrow, so Congressman Lloyd Doggett [D-San Antonio] called ICE to not drop families at the bus station.”

Doggett told the Rivard Report that it’d get the asylum seekers to the station early enough so that they could safely get out, but when they actually got there, there were no running buses. ICE, however, wouldn’t answer whether buses were operating when the more than 50 people were dropped off at the station. “Throughout the process, ICE remained in close contact with bus officials to ensure bus availability, and all aliens had confirmed bus transportation at the time at which ICE officers departed the station,” a spokesperson said. “Ultimately, ICE kept two additional families in custody since their bus trip had been cancelled.”

The Infertaith Welcome Coalition sprung into action after it learned of the fate of those about 50 asylum seekers. After putting in calls to nonprofits and with the help of Assistant City Manager María Villagómez, a local church agreed to take in the frightened families. “We want everyone to be welcome here always, so it’s at the core of our mission as a church to open our doors to everyone,” said Corazon Ministries Executive Director Lori Chidgey. “It’s very important that all of our neighbors feel safe and welcome here. We will be here throughout the storm.”

The city also sent cots, blankets, water, and food so that the church could accommodate the extra people.

August 29 at 2:40 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story stated that Rivard Report broke the news. The story has been updated to reflect that NOWCast SA broke the story.