Shelter for the Apprehended, Empty After Policy Change

Casa Alitas, a shelter in Tucson, usually houses up to 20 people a night, often women and children who were caught trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally and have been dropped off by federal immigration officials. This week, the beds were empty.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy went into effect this week, under which undocumented immigrants are bused 100 miles north to Phoenix, Monday through Friday. Then they have to wear ankle bracelets that track their location while they await a hearing in federal immigration court.

Alitas, which is operated by Catholic Community Services, only houses immigrants over the weekend, and volunteers are unsure about what will happen next with the shelter.

On Friday morning Alitas volunteers began shipping blankets, toys and other goods via Greyhound to Phoenix, where other volunteers will distribute them to the immigrants who have been dropped off by ICE. Only two boxes were sent, but this is an experiment, said Galen Hunt, the main organizer at Alitas.

“We’re in a wait-and-see-what-happens mode,” he said.

Not all who are caught crossing the border are immediately deported. There is often not enough room at detention centers to house the large number of undocumented immigrants who are awaiting deportation hearings. Alitas opened last summer in response to an influx of undocumented immigrants who had been dropped off at the Greyhound Bus station in downtown Tucson.

The women and children who have no criminal records are taken to other locations but are required to show up at their nearest immigration court.

When Steve Kozachik, who represents Central Tucson on the City Council, learned that many of the immigrants spent a night at the bus depot or did not have anywhere to turn, he decided to put together some essentials and gather donations.

“They would show up, and it’s largely a woman with two or three mouths to feed,” Mr. Kozachik said.

When Greyhound officials expressed concerns about people staying overnight at the station, Catholic Community Services decided to offer a place for the immigrants to stay. ICE began taking them directly to the shelter.

Many of the families who arrive at the bus depot are coming from El Salvador, Mexico or Guatemala. “They’re fleeing not just poverty but situations where their lives are significantly in danger as a result of gang cartels,” Mr. Kozachik said. For those reasons, the location of the shelter is not made public.

The shelter’s walls are decorated with cards and drawings made by the women and children who have stayed there. Another wall is dedicated to cards that have been sent to the shelter from around the country offering support.