Scores of illegal immigrants, caught by authorities in Texas trying to sneak into the country via the Rio Grande Valley, are being flown, bused and then abandoned out of state in places like Arizona, New York and Maryland.
If the immigrants had been from Mexico, authorities would release them back across the border. But these would-be immigrants come from Central American countries, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, and trying to get them back to their country of origin has been a costly and largely unsuccessful endeavor.
"We all started crying because we didn't know what was going to happen to us. It was brutal."
- Floridalma Bineda Portillo, a Guatemala native said in Spanish
Lawmakers in Arizona, which has been battling for years to stem the flow of illegal immigrants into the state, wasted no time blasting the practice.
"What an astonishing failure of leadership at every level inside the Beltway," said Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Smith.
Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Reuters, “essentially, they have gotten successfully into the country and it’s unlikely that they’re going to leave.”
The number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley has shot up in recent years, with south Texas now the main gateway for illegal immigration along the southwest border with Mexico.
Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley sector apprehended 154,453 immigrants last year – up from 97,762 the previous year.
More shockingly, some say, is the unprecedented surge of children making the more than 1,000-mile journey from Central America to the U.S.-Mexico border to escape violence in their home countries.
Multiple media outlets have reported horrific stories from border districts on youngsters, ranging from toddlers to teens, being raped and murdered on their way to the U.S. border.
Floridalma Bineda Portillo and her two young boys were part of a group of about 400 Central Americans who were flown from Texas to Tucson last weekend. Bineda Portillo and others were then shuttled to Phoenix after the Tucson Greyhound station ran out of space.
When they arrived at the station in Phoenix, a volunteer nurse found Bineda Portillo's five-year-old son, Hugo David, wheezing and struggling to breathe. His asthma inhaler had been lost when the family was processed by immigration. The boy's three-year-old brother developed a cold after sitting on the floor for hours in the detention center, his mother said.
"We all started crying because we didn't know what was going to happen to us. It was brutal," the Guatemala native said in Spanish.
"This is a humanitarian crisis and it requires a humanitarian response," Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., told Reuters.
Most of the families apprehended so far in Texas have been flown to Arizona and dropped off by the busload at the station in Phoenix by federal immigration authorities overwhelmed by a surge of families caught crossing the Mexican border into the Rio Grande Valley.
The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said it does not want to lock up minors in detention centers or split up families.
They are expected to return to Texas on their own once their deportation process nears completion in an honor system of sorts.
“After screening by DHS authorities, the family units will be released under supervision and required to report in to a local ICE office near their destination address within 15 days, where their cases will be managed in accordance with current ICE enforcement priorities,” according to an ICE statement.
Bineda Portillo said she fled Guatemala because of growing violence and to escape domestic abuse. Her mother, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, sent her money for the bus ride there.
In the meantime, volunteers from the Phoenix Restoration Project, a humanitarian group, have been at the Greyhound station since Tuesday handing out food, clothing, diapers and other supplies.
"It's always heart-wrenching, especially when we're working with women, because they're less likely to be able to read and sometimes are coming from very rural areas of Central America, and Spanish isn't their first language," volunteer Cyndi Whitmore said. "We see a lot of women who are very scared, very vulnerable."
Fox News’s Will Carr and Lee Ross, Fox News Latino’s Byran Llenas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.