Arizona Volunteers Create Underground Network to Help Migrants

As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) expedites the release of hundreds of families in Arizona daily, a bevy of volunteers are rushing to help migrants find a safe place. In the past three months, ICE has released at least 107,000 family and children in Texas, Arizona, and California, according to a report from Public Radio International (PRI) — and many don’t have a place to spend the night or a way to communicate with their loved ones. On several occasions, Phoenix families have sheltered more than 40 people at the same time.

“I see myself in every single one of these immigrants,” Marta Vázquez, a volunteer who has received more than 300 Central American parents at her house in Glendale since Christmas, told PRI. “And in each little face of the kids, I see the child that I brought with me.” Most of these families are fleeing gang-related violence, unemployment, and poverty from the Northern Triangle — the Central American region comprised of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — so it feels personal for Vázquez, a Honduran immigrant and US Army veteran, who fled her country 26 years ago. Churches and shelters have also joined the cause, helping migrants reach their destinations, and join relatives and friends throughout the US.

ICE is releasing families in droves following a rollback of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy last summer; the increasing number of families arriving at the border makes the call for more volunteers necessary. The PRI report indicated that this so-called underground network relies on text messages among Phoenix volunteers, who “coordinate rides, housing, food, donated clothes, and travel arrangements for the families.”

The network has gone underground to avoid facing people who disapprove of their work. A group known as AZ Patriots was seen in a Facebook video shouting “Criminals! You do not qualify for asylum. Go home!” while ICE agents dropped off families at a local church. “This has been an underground effort, the whole thing. Everything is within trusted contacts,” a woman named Jen told PRI. “It really is quite an underground railroad we have all had to commit to.”

Meanwhile, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquín Castro issued a letter on March 25 demanding the Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson and ICE Deputy Director Ronald Vitiello release eligible families to “continue fighting their cases outside of detention.” The document paid particular attention at the jail-like conditions at Texas’ Karnes County Residential Center, where families have allegedly spent as many as 41 days. The caucus noted that detaining children for over 20 days violates the Flores Settlement, which authorizes the swift release of minors to their parents, adult relatives, or authorized programs.

“There is no reason to detain families and children for weeks at a time,” the letter stated. “Families can instead be released to live with friends and relatives as they navigate the asylum process and their children receive adequate care and education.”


About the Author

Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and US politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.