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Officials: Hundreds more migrants may be released in US on Christmas Day

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TOPSHOT - Central American migrants look through a border fence as a US Border Partol agents stands guard near the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Baja California State, Mexico, on November 25, 2018. - Hundreds of migrants attempted to storm a border fence separating Mexico from the US on Sunday amid mounting fears they will be kept in Mexico while their applications for a asylum are processed. An AFP photographer said the migrants broke away from a peaceful march at a border bridge and tried to climb over a metal border barrier in the attempt to enter the United States. (Photo by GUILLERMO ARIAS / AFP)

EL PASO, Tex. — Hundreds more migrants are expected to be released in El Paso, Texas, on Christmas Day and Wednesday as the community works to accommodate hundreds already released at a bus station over the last two days, officials said.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers dropped off more than 200 undocumented immigrants Sunday night outside a Greyhound bus terminal in El Paso without an apparent plan for housing them, police said.

Dozens more were dropped off at the station Monday, according to US Rep.-elect Veronica Escobar, D-Texas.

“I believe it was around 60 (on Monday), so thankfully it was a more manageable number than the 200 the day before,” Escobar told CNN.

The man Escobar is replacing in Congress, US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said Monday that ICE had told him to expect another 200 people that day and another 200 on Tuesday. He said a similar number could be released Wednesday in El Paso.

“(ICE) admitted they had dropped the ball (Sunday) in not notifying the community they were going to release 214 people at the Greyhound station, and then told us we would be expecting 200 people today, which we are seeing, that we’ll expect 200 people (Tuesday), so they are at least giving the community the opportunity to begin getting shelters, hotel rooms, food, medical supplies ready for those who are coming to our community,” O’Rourke said in a video posted to his Facebook page.

“It’s very possible we’ll see another 200 released the day after Christmas, pushing the existing available shelter capacity beyond its limits.”

O’Rourke, who is being touted as a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 after losing his November bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spent part of Monday assisting migrants in an El Paso park near the bus station.

“We’d love to be able to get those beds ready so that folks, as you can see around us, are just sitting on the pavement and some have been here now for a couple of hours,” O’Rourke said in the video. “We’d love for them to get to a shelter where there’s food waiting for them, where there are beds waiting for them, and where they can call family members to let them know they’re OK.”

“Many of those we’re seeing right now have been in detention for the last seven or eight days, they may not have had contact with family, and in some cases don’t even totally know where they are in the United States.”

Police in El Paso learned about the first group released around 8 p.m. Sunday when officials at the Greyhound terminal told them people were trying to board buses without tickets.

“All of a sudden a bunch of people show up; ICE drops them off,” Greyhound spokeswoman Crystal Booker said. “We weren’t expecting it. We (were) not given prior notice.”

The waiting area at the bus terminal is small, said El Paso police spokesman Sgt. Robert Gomez, and many people were left standing outside in the cold. He said the group of undocumented immigrants included some families and small children.

Later, four buses arrived for people to board and stay warm, he said.

“We weren’t going to put 200 people on the streets of El Paso on a cold night. We wouldn’t do that,” Gomez said.

Authorities found housing for the migrants, including at a hotel and a nearby Catholic school, he said.

“We’re a little perplexed because this is not something typically that ICE does,” Dylan Corbett, director of Hope Border Institute, told CNN affiliate KFOX. Corbett said ICE usually gives notice to the nonprofit shelter Annunciation House so it can be ready for a large number of arrivals.

ICE said in an emailed statement to CNN that after decades of inaction by Congress, the government is limited in what it can do to remove families who are in the United States illegally.

“To mitigate the risk of holding family units past the timeframe allotted to the government, ICE has curtailed reviews of post-release plans from families apprehended along the southwest border,” the statement said. It did not specifically refer to the events in El Paso.

“ICE continues to work with local and state officials and (nongovernmental) partners in the area so they are prepared to provide assistance with transportation or other services.”

Escobar issued a statement Monday criticizing ICE for not giving the community notice before Sunday night.

“The lack of community coordination by ICE, which first occurred in October, and again last night and today, demonstrates a reckless disregard for very vulnerable people, including children. It is unacceptable,” she said.

“Federal law enforcement officials in El Paso have long worked closely with Annunciation House, an El Paso nonprofit that offers hospitality to immigrants. This collaboration ensures that migrants who have been processed by ICE do not end up on the streets of El Paso, homeless, hungry and without support.

“The federal government has an obligation to provide humane, temporary holding facilities for these migrants in their custody until they can be accepted by NGOs like Annunciation House. Quickly ridding themselves of those in their custody is not a solution. In fact, it puts adults and children at grave risk, and creates a crisis in our community.”

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