By the time the men made it to the downtown Sacramento address that a US immigration official had written on their forms, the sandals they were given at the border had been destroyed. Instead of space at a shelter they were promised, they stood in front of a closed office building.
Reports of eight immigrant men landing in Sacramento last week suggested it could have been the latest effort by Republican governors to fly immigrants and asylum-seekers to liberal states. But the flights were not actually organized by politicians like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Instead, they were the result of federal authorities consciously putting down incorrect addresses on entry forms for immigrants before they're released, advocates said.
For months, Border Patrol and ICE have been releasing immigrants with documents incorrectly listing their future residences as addresses to nonprofits or churches. These immigrants and asylum-seekers, most of them from Venezuela, then show up to random buildings confused and unsure of what to do next.
Autumn Gonzalez, a volunteer with NorCal Resist, an immigrant advocacy organization based in Sacramento, said federal authorities told the men they were to report to the address on their release forms and that it was a shelter that could house them for 30 days.
"It's troubling," Gonzalez said. "They walked for miles to get to the shelter, and once they arrived they were told it's not a shelter but an office building."
Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Gonzalez said she didn't know which Texas shelter or organization bought the tickets for the men but believes it was based in San Antonio. It's common practice for shelters or nonprofits to pay for bus rides or flights for immigrants who are released after being processed at the border and have no way of paying for the next leg of their journey.
Shelters see hundreds of immigrants a week, and their volunteers are overworked, Gonzalez said. So she could understand why they would fly people to the address on their release forms given to them by ICE or Border Patrol. That’s because the immigrants are told they need to show up for an ICE check-in near the listed location within 30 days or be in violation of the terms of their release.
"We don't want to make it sound like we have an issue with the shelters. We sympathize with them," Gonzalez said. "Our beef is not with them, but with CBP giving this wrong address."
There were two flights of immigrant men sent to Sacramento, Gonzalez said, adding that the first group was confused about where they were going. The second group, who ended up sleeping overnight in a park, knew they were going to Sacramento but had plans to then go to cities as far as New York.
It’s not the first time Border Patrol agents have put down an incorrect address on forms. BuzzFeed News previously reported that Border Patrol agents wrote “Facebook” as an immigrant’s address on their Notice to Appear (NTA), a charging document issued by DHS that includes information on where people must present themselves for their first court hearing.
Advocates and organizations have been sounding the alarm about US immigration officials listing erroneous addresses and the issues that come up as a result. On Sept. 15, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and other immigrant rights organizations sent a letter to federal officials asking them to fix the issue.
For months, the letter stated, nonprofit organizations throughout the US have been receiving government documents, including notices for court hearings, for asylum-seekers they do not represent or have any way of contacting. Catholic Charities in New York City reported receiving more than 300 such notices. That’s important because if an immigrant misses their court hearing as a result of not receiving the hearing notice, they could be ordered deported in absentia.
"(CBP) is putting a nonprofit address unconnected to the individual asylum seeker on government documents in lieu of a residential address without the consent of the nonprofit," AILA said. "This practice of placing nonprofit addresses as the asylum seeker’s residential address creates significant due process issues and administrative issues for the government."
The issue likely stems from the fact that a growing number of immigrants from Venezuela are asking for asylum at the border but have no one to take them in once they’re here, unlike others who have family or friends who are willing to be their sponsors.
Unlike most immigrants at the border who are blocked from accessing the US immigration system under a Trump-era pandemic policy, Venezuelans are allowed to remain in the country to pursue their cases. The Trump-era policy, known as Title 42, isn't being applied to Venezuelans; the US can’t send deportation flights to their country due to a lack of diplomatic relations and Mexico won't accept them.
Taylor Levy, an immigration attorney who has been tracking this issue, said what happened in Sacramento is something advocates have been seeing this past year across the country.
Border Patrol and ICE agents are sometimes doing insufficient case management with immigrants who do not have a place to go to for the long term, Levy said.
"The DHS agent will just seem to invent an address from thin air to put on their release paperwork," Levy said.
Oftentimes, the Border Patrol agent or ICE officer will mislead the immigrant into believing they will get shelter and support services at the address, Levy said.
The addresses on the forms have belonged to churches and organizations working on homelessness issues, with the largest category being nonprofits and immigration law offices.
"Those law offices are not equipped to provide humane social services or take walk-ins," Levy said.
Beyond confusion and distress, she said, one of the worst outcomes of using incorrect addresses is that the immigrants, through no fault of their own, may never get their court hearing notices, miss it, and be ordered deported by a judge.
Immigrants can change their address listed on their release form, but it's a confusing process that can only be done in person at an ICE office, many of which are often overcapacity, full, or closed because of COVID, she said.
Meanwhile, Border Patrol agents are under increasing pressure to process the immigrants quickly to keep facilities from overcrowding, she said.
"Border Patrol agents are not social workers, they're not necessarily trained, or equipped, or have the time or resources to be doing that type of work," Levy added. “Nevertheless, it is certainly wrong — and appears illegal — for federal agents sworn to uphold the law to randomly choose addresses of churches, legal service agencies, and immigration nonprofits from crude google searches and then record them as alleged 'residential' addresses for desperate asylum-seekers."