Increase in U.S.-Mexico border crossings leads to more people detained, released at Aurora ICE facility
More than four years after Shoeb Babu was released from a federal immigration detention center in Aurora, he still gets emotional when talking about how much the nonprofit Casa de Paz made a difference in his new life.
The asylum seeker fled his native home of Bangladesh in 2014 and was in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for two years. It was during those years he met two volunteers from Casa de Paz (which translates to House of Peace), who became like family to him.
Casa de Paz offers help to asylum seekers like Babu and other immigrants, particularly after they get released from detention. And over the past month, the Aurora immigration detention facility, run by private prison company the GEO Group, has been releasing more people than Casa de Paz was typically seeing each day, founder Sarah Jackson said.
An uptick in immigrants who are being transferred from U.S.-Mexico border facilities since mid-April is leading to more people being released at the Aurora facility, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Alethea Smock.
“ICE makes custody determinations on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with U.S. law and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy,” Smock said in a written statement. “The decision to detain or release an individual is based upon the individual facts and circumstances of each case. ICE will continue to follow the civil immigration enforcement priorities directed by DHS on Jan. 20, to focus available resources on threats to national security, border security and public safety.”
The Biden administration also is moving forward on plans to speed up asylum seekers’ cases, NPR reported.
Jackson said volunteers went from seeing four to 10 people a day regularly in 2019 (the numbers went down in 2020 because of the pandemic) to consistently more than 20 people per day over the past couple of weeks. In June, Casa de Paz helped 45 people, and that jumped to 178 in July.
“They’re doing an amazing job,” said Babu, now a permanent U.S. resident. “When you get out, you’re just helpless. You don’t know what to do or where to go. This is a good help for people, especially for people like me.”
Babu was released in January 2017 on an appeal, and a Casa de Paz volunteer picked him up, and provided him with food, clothing and a temporary place to stay for a few days until he could connect with other organizations and his mosque for more permanent housing and work.
Seeking asylum is legal but the process is complex, and Jackson wasn’t surprised that the nonprofit started seeing more people released in Aurora — she said other states have also been seeing an increase in asylum seekers. Most recently, Casa de Paz has seen an influx of immigrants from Brazil and Cuba being released from ICE custody.
As of July 7, the ICE detention center in Aurora had 904 people in custody, according to reports published by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jason Crow’s office. A month prior, the number was 661.
Casa de Paz has expanded since Babu first connected with volunteers in 2016, and especially since Jackson started the organization in 2012 by opening her one-bedroom apartment to families who were coming from out of town to visit their detained loved ones.
A year later, she started hosting immigrants who had been released. Casa de Paz moved to a bigger home in 2016 and now owns its own home and has three programs, with volunteers across the country.
Alejandra Portillos started volunteering last fall with Casa de Paz’s “Casa on Wheels,” which parks outside of the ICE facility to assist immigrants who are released. She said the current increase in the number of people is “pretty intense.”
Portillos’ mother is an immigrant from Mexico and some of her family members were living in the United States without documentation for a while. She has seen family members of friends who’ve been detained because of immigration issues, so she understands how much help people need after being released.
“I would just encourage folks if you’re able to, to sign up and volunteer,” Portillos said, adding that there are options that don’t require direct contact, including requests for donations. “There’s a lot of folks who need help right now.”
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