The United States releases asylum seekers onto the streets. Some suburbs bear the burden.


Written by Daniel Trotta

OCEANSIDE, Calif. (Reuters) – With record numbers of asylum seekers from around the world, U.S. border officials released thousands of migrants onto the streets of the San Diego area last month, including about 1,400 in the beach town of Oceanside.

Customs and Border Protection trucks or buses drop off asylum seekers twice a day at the transit center in Oceanside, a city of 172,000 located 50 miles (80 km) north of the border, say humanitarian organizations and volunteers who welcome and assist the migrants. Getting to other destinations in the United States

They are among about 18,500 people released onto the street in the San Diego area since Sept. 13, according to local government officials and legal and humanitarian organizations that have been in contact with CBP.

When NGOs that typically receive migrants exceed their capacity, Customs and Border Protection said in a statement to Reuters, the Border Patrol coordinates with local governments to identify “alternative safe locations where migrants can easily access transportation services or accommodations.”

Most street versions take place in San Ysidro, the San Diego area adjacent to the Mexican city of Tijuana, but they also take place in suburbs like Oceanside and El Cajon, just east of San Diego.

Arrivals Away from the Border shows how communities in different parts of the United States can find themselves directly involved in the immigration crisis. Local leaders are demanding more federal money to help absorb immigrants, while the political debate over immigration is sure to intensify ahead of the November 2024 presidential and congressional elections.

“We don’t know when this will stop. It could continue indefinitely,” said Ryan Kim, Oceanside’s deputy mayor. “California has a tremendous amount of homeless crisis. And now we’re dealing with the burden of the migrant crisis. Are we displacing our homeless? I’m not displacing our homeless. The federal government needs to address this.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Levin, a Democrat whose district includes Oceanside, said in an email to constituents that the street releases of inmates were “deeply troubling” and that he was fighting for more funding to “provide critical relief to our region.” He did not respond to an interview request from Reuters.

One morning, about 65 men, most of them from the West African nation of Guinea, arrived at the Oceanside transit center located at the corner of the city’s parking structure. They each had a manila envelope containing a notice to appear in immigration court at locations around the country. On this day, many of them were headed to New York City or Columbus, Ohio.

Finally arriving in the United States after long, arduous journeys, many migrants bypassed offers of bottled water, fresh fruit and snacks and headed to tables of phone chargers so they could communicate with their families back home.

US border officers picked up more than 204,000 migrants in the San Diego sector in the 11 months through August, an increase of 27% from the same period the previous year. Many new arrivals seek refugee status, which requires them to prove their need for protection from persecution in their home country. Immigration and asylum courts accept less than 15% of petitions.

“We can’t help you”

When Iranian asylum seeker Haniyeh Sadat Sayadati arrived on October 8, she said the US border officer drove her to the Oceanside transit center, saying, “We can’t help you, just go.”

Sayadati (34 years old) said that she faced police repression in Iran for participating in street protests in which she and other women took off their veils. She said she arrived frightened and crying after a three-month journey that included a flight from Iran to Brazil and an overland expedition through nine other countries.

“When I arrived in Oceanside, the volunteers helped me and I said to myself: ‘I’ve survived. Thank God,'” said Siadati, who is now volunteering at the center while awaiting her immigration court hearing.

Many migrants have no idea where they are when they arrive. The nonprofit groups that receive them help them book flights to meet with family and sponsors elsewhere in the United States.

Those who cannot find transportation immediately stay in a temporary shelter at a nearby church or the nonprofit group Interfaith Community Services places them in a hotel.

Asylum seekers typically turn themselves in to U.S. officials at the U.S.-Mexico border and are given a notice to appear in immigration court. Sometimes, border officials try to coordinate their releases with nonprofit agencies that can help them reach their destinations, but as capacity is exceeded, they are released farther away and in larger numbers.

They are now being released multiple times a day, leaving an average of nearly 600 people a day on the streets in the San Diego area, according to the Immigrant Advocates Law Center.

The Oceanside Immigrant Service Center is led by Interfaith Community Services, which said it has been able to place 95% of immigrants arriving in the city with their sponsors and families. Fiona King, the group’s development director, said it could not cope with any increase without new funding.

“It’s not sustainable,” King said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)

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