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Immigration agents detain DACA recipients for hours near the border

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Nine recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative — which grants temporary deportation relief and work authorization to people brought to the country as children — were detained for hours on Monday at an immigration checkpoint in Texas to verify their paperwork, according to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson. The detention comes one week after the Trump administration announced the end of the DACA program.

Media outlets reported Monday that immigrants were being detained upwards of eight hours at an immigration checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas, roughly 85 miles from the southern U.S. border. At least one 28-year-old DACA recipient was detained while traveling with two U.S. citizens to Corpus Christi for work, his attorney Elba Rocha said. The two citizens were released, but CBP agents checked Rocha’s client’s valid DACA status, including running a background check. The other individuals were released by the time the local publication The Monitor updated its post at 7:30 p.m. local time. According to the Huffington Post, a relative of a detained DACA recipient said the individuals could be transferred to a detention center before being released.

“USBP agents encountered nine individuals at the immigration checkpoint in Falfurrias, Texas,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson Rod Kis told ThinkProgress in an email sent Monday evening at 7:59 p.m. “The individuals claimed to be enrolled in DACA. Agents validated their claims by reviewing and verifying their documents. The individuals were then released to proceed with their journey, consistent with established policies and procedures.”

Last week, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency changed its DACA policy page to reflect that it would no longer accept new applicants as of September 5. The webpage encouraged current recipients to renew their work authorization cards if they expire before March 5, 2018. The website also indicated that it would “no longer approve advance parole requests associated with DACA,” meaning recipients who were once allowed to travel out of the country with the government’s explicit approval can no longer do so.

Falfurrias is not a border town along the southern U.S. border, but border agents are authorized to carry out immigration enforcement operations within a 100-mile zone that wraps around the United States, an area where the majority of Americans live. At least 170 internal immigration checkpoints exist throughout the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Federal regulations grant CBP agents “extra-Constitutional powers” within these areas where they can stop, interrogate, and search Americans based on a “reasonable suspicion” of an immigration violation or crime.

It’s possible that the technical issues may have been a factor in the detention, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) told The Monitor.

“Due to the rural location of the Falfurrias checkpoint, its technological systems suffer from low data speed — making it difficult to verify individuals’ immigration status in a timely manner,” Gonzalez said.

A lack of oversight can also contribute to the prolonged detention of DACA recipients beyond internal immigration checkpoints and into the reaches of ports of entry. As ThinkProgress reported last year, Lesley Sophia Cortez-Martinez, a DACA recipient, was briefly deported to Mexico as she made her way back through the Chicago O’Hare International Airport. She had advance parole, which should have allowed her to travel out of and reenter the United States. She was later allowed to come back into the United States after much community and media pressure. An immigration lawyer also told ThinkProgress that she’s had clients who face harassment when they come back to ports of entry. But even advance parole “does not guarantee admission into the United States,” as the CBP website explained, pointing out that immigrants are “still subject to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection inspection process at the port of entry.”

Still, the hours-long detention of DACA recipients — who are considered “lawfully present” in the country — now creates an additional layer of concern for the roughly 28,000 DACA recipients living in the Rio Grande Valley, an area that encompasses the Falfurrias checkpoint. Detaining multiple DACA recipients sends a message to these individuals that they should be afraid.

“We’re trying to figure out the same thing everyone else is: Is this new; is this going to be for everyone; is it just the [Rio Grande Valley] sector; what are we doing here? We don’t know,” Rocha told the Huffington Post. “What’s the purpose of all of this? Because it never happened before that we know of.”

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