PLATTE CITY, Mo. -- Thousands of immigration cases are pending across Missouri and Kansas. These cases determine who can stay in the United States and who has to return to their native country.
And for those people waiting their turn to learn their fate, one of the Midwest region’s largest holding facilities for ICE detainees is right here in the Kansas City metro.
Victor Vazquez recently had a hearing in Immigration Court in Kansas City.
Vazquez is one of 2,900 people in the Kansas City metro with a pending case in the immigration court system, according to data from the University of Syracuse.
The 23 year-old Mexican immigrant came to Illinois with his family when he was 6.
Vazquez had been included in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program.
But a recent drunk driving case against him meant he lost DACA status.
As a result, Vazquez faces an uncertain future.
"I know I messed up and I'm grateful I did not hurt anybody," he said.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE, Vazquez's case is pretty typical.
Agency records state in Fiscal Year 2017, 92 percent of ICE arrests involved people who were accused of committing crimes other than illegally residing in the country.
When asked by the 41 Action News Investigators if he felt he's being treated fairly, Vazquez replied, "I mean I am, it could be a lot worse, it could be a lot worse.”
The small, quiet town of Platte City, Mo., with a population of less than 5,000 people, plays a key role in the immigration process.
The city plays host to the Platte County Jail.
The jail houses some of the largest number of ICE detainees, not just in the metro, but also in the entire country.
Federal records compiled by Syracuse University show in the last 18 years, the Platte County Jail ranks 23rd nationally in ICE detainees held, holding nearly 19,000 people during the time period.
It’s a fact unknown to at least some in Platte County.
"Did not know that,” said long-time Platte County resident Olin Miller. “It's one of those things that didn't used to be as big as it is."
The 41 Action News Investigators found the Platte County Sheriff's Office has had an agreement for nearly two decades to hold prisoners.
The most recent 2016 agreement with ICE allows the jail to hold detainees for more than three days.
The Platte County Sheriff's Office only accepts those federal prisoners when there's available space.
Their agreement with the federal government pays roughly $78 per detainee, per day.
One reason ICE has an agreement with the Platte County Sheriff's Office is the jail is just minutes from Kansas City International Airport.
It's a short ride for detainees who are ultimately put on a plane and deported.
"That's my understanding is one of the benefits why ICE was interested in the contract," said Platte County Presiding Commissioner Ron Schieber. "We support the sheriff's efforts to enforce the law and give those ICE folks a safe place to stay while they're being prosecuted through the system," he said.
Not far from the jail, a group was protesting outside Kansas City's ICE office last week.
Witnesses claim an ICE agent knocked over a woman's attorney.
That woman, with her child, were deported to Honduras.
She was trying to make a claim for asylum stating she's been a victim of domestic violence in Honduras.
According to federal records compiled by Syracuse University
, there are more than 3,900 pending immigration cases in Kansas and nearly 3,200 in Missouri.
Jackson and Wyandotte counties have the most pending cases in each state with about 1,000 in each county.
The 41 Action News Investigators recently sat in on eight Immigration Court hearings.
Five of those hearings resulted in asylum applications being given to the defendants because they were afraid to return to their native countries.
Two of those asylum applications were given to El Salvador natives, two for Honduras natives and one for a Mexico native.
It's part of a stunning roughly 1,700 percent increase in asylum claims in the last decade.
Victor Vazquez is hopeful he can stay in the U.S.
He too fears a possible deportation to Mexico.
"I would definitely think my life is in danger. I haven't been around the cartels. Like I said, that's not my lifestyle," Vazquez said.
Vazquez is hoping to get an attorney and change of hearing place to Chicago which is closer to his home in Champaign, Illinois.
He's due to return to court in October.