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PHOENIX -- Hundreds of immigrants, mainly from Central America who were caught crossing the border in South Texas, are being released in Arizona.

The journey for hundreds of families crossing the border begins in their home country, south of Mexico. When they cross over the border in Texas, they become one of the roughly 1,000 illegal immigrants apprehended in South Texas each day, according to Andy Adame, Special Operations Supervisor for the Border Patrol in Arizona.

"What's happening in the Rio Grande Valley area is they are experiencing a significant increase in the number of Central Americans crossing illegally through that area," he said.

To handle the extreme influx, Tucson Border Patrol is helping with the processing of those immigrants. Over the holiday weekend alone, they received roughly 400 people.

"Central Americans, unlike Mexican citizens, take a lot longer to process," Adame said. "There's a lot more paperwork involved."

In order to process the large number, the Border Patrol in southern Texas is sending plane-loads of people to Tucson.

"Tucson, for the longest time, has been the doormat for illegal immigration into the U.S. from Mexico and Central America," Adame said.

Because of that, Tucson has the manpower and facilities that can handle large numbers of immigrants to process. Adame said illegal immigration apprehensions are down about 24 percent, meaning the load is smaller than in the past, allowing Tucson to help the Rio Grande sector out.

Once the illegal immigrants are processed, they are turned over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). After Department of Homeland Security authorities screen the family units for criminal records, outstanding warrants or repeat offenders, they are released under supervision, according to ICE. Those who are allowed to go are required to report to a local ICE office near their destination address within 15 days. Their cases will then be managed by ICE.

It's how they are released that is raising eyebrows.

Many of the families are allowed to go to their destination, usually somewhere within the United States. ICE confirmed, if they are cleared, some of them are dropped off at Greyhound Bus stations in Tucson and Phoenix. ICE does not cover their fare.

In a statement released to KTAR, ICE explained the process.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Tucson Sector is assisting with the processing of illegal immigrants, many of whom are family units, apprehended in South Texas. Upon completion of processing, CBP is transferring the individuals to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), where appropriate custody determinations will be made in accordance with ICE enforcement priorities.

According to Adame, over the last month and a half, the Border Patrol has received several planes full of illegal immigrants to process them.

Martha Maurer, News Editor

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