ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Scores of recently arrived migrants on Monday waited for an appointment with federal immigration officials outside an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in central Florida, continuing days of delays by federal workers in processing them for their required check-ins.
During the past week, as many as 250 people, including children, have been waiting each day outside the ICE facility in Orlando for an appointment with immigration officials, sometimes sleeping in cars and tents while they bide their time. They have brought umbrellas and tents for protection against the Florida sun and heat.
Those waiting included people who had recently been apprehended along the southwest border and had to check in with ICE after arriving at their destinations, according to the agency.
In an emailed statement, ICE said Monday that it was working to address the delays at the Orlando office and was encouraging people to make appointments online to avoid having to wait in person at the ICE office or on the phone. The agency blamed processing delays on the pandemic.
“ICE continues to make processing, staffing, and resource allocation improvements to increase processing and limit adjudication delays,” the statement said.
The Rev. Irene Familia, who presides over Grace and Glory Christian Church in Sanford, Florida, said her church staff has been taking food, water, tents and blankets for the people who have been camping outside the ICE offices. Many of them are originally from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua and are doing their routine check-ins with ICE if they are facing deportation orders but are in good standing. Those waiting in line with children appear to come directly from the U.S.-Mexico border and are looking to check in with ICE officials after their release from custody, Familia said.
There is no access to bathrooms outside the offices, she said.
“They are very sad, desperate and many of them are also scared,” said Familia. “They are just really hopeful the long wait will end soon.”
In a letter last Friday to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, U.S. Reps. Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy asked that the agency investigate and fix the delays.
“Addressing the current backlog at the Orlando ICE facility is vital to ensuring the safety of immigrants seeking refuge," said the Democratic lawmakers from the Orlando area.
U.S. Rep. Val Demings tweeted that the delays were representative of a broken immigration system that Congress has failed to fix for decades.
“We are a nation of laws, and immigrants in Orlando who are acting in good faith to fulfill their legal obligations have met with unacceptable delays due to staffing shortages," said Demings, a Democratic congresswoman who is running for U.S. Senate.
In March, federal authorities stopped migrants more than 221,000 times at the U.S. border with Mexico, the highest monthly mark in 22 years. Nearly half of those encounters resulted in expulsions under Title 42 authority, a pandemic-era rule that denies migrants a chance to seek asylum. The U.S. has applied those powers unevenly across nationalities because costs, strained diplomatic relations and other considerations make it difficult to send people back to some countries, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
U.S. authorities released more than 65,000 migrants at the border in March with notices to report to ICE, to appear in an immigration court or some other conditions, the Justice Department said in a recent court filing.
The Biden administration has come under criticism from many Republicans and some moderate and border-state Democrats for plans to lift Title 42 authority later this month. It is widely anticipated that more migrants will come when the pandemic-related expulsions end. Homeland Security has been pushing back against criticism that it is unprepared.