Local churches in San Diego say they are being overwhelmed by an influx of asylum-seeking immigrant being dropped off on the streets with nowhere to go.
The churches say they have been taking in about 50 people. Their say their hospitality toward immigrants is needed more than ever, because Immigration and Customs Enforcement is releasing detained families without any plans on where these asylum seekers should go, or how they should get there. The immigrants are released in an "Alternatives to Detention" program that allows them to remain in the U.S. while they await their hearing in Immigration Court.
"There has been a definite uptake in the number of people that are needing assistance right now," Episcopal Dioceses of San Diego spokeswoman Hannah Wilder said. "My understanding is that ICE is dropping people off without any place to go without any food or money."
A lot of the immigrants end up trying to buy a ticket to get to wherever their family is around the U.S.
"We know that people are being dropped off and we are going to meet them where they are and taking them to shelters and providing for their needs," Wilder said.
Wilder said approximately 10 local Episcopalian churches are helping the immigrants. Other denominations, including Catholic, Methodist and Lutheran, are assisting with the effort. Non-denominational Christians, the Jewish community and civil rights groups like the ACLU are also helping, Wilder said.
In a statement to NBC 7, ICE said on Oct. 23 it started to cut back on post-release procedures for apprehended families, meaning there is no post-release plan.
ICE said this new protocol is a result of a large number of intakes and asylum requests the agency has been receiving.
"You're scared they have been through hell," Wilder said. "Frankly, they are. They start to shake when you come near them. They're so frightened."
A man working near one of the drop-off points said he's seen people get dropped off daily for the past four days.
He said the immigrants he has seen don't speak English, and has lent them his cell phone to call their families in the U.S.
The Episcopal Dioceses said it is in desperate need of toiletry and cash donations. Donations may be dropped off at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church in UTC area, 4321 Eastgate Mall.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to correct the number of immigrants being assisted by local churches. Information about a specific location where some of the immigrants have been released was also removed from the story.