Texas communities scramble to help Central American migrants

Texas communities scramble to help Central American migrants

Mexico, communities in Texas along the border are scrambling to help each other.

"This is the third surge [of migrants] that we've seen over the past three years. This is the highest surge we've ever seen, "Ruben Garcia, the founder and executive director of Annunciation House, told El Paso nonprofit that has cared for migrants for 40 years.

El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, at the Port of Norte Bridge, Mexico. Hundreds more families crossing between ports, requesting asylum after being apprehended by Border Patrol agents.

The migrant families are initially detained at the Border Patrol Stations. Built to house people for a few hours for processing, the holding cells have been used in recent weeks to house 20 or more people at one time for up to three days. Some families have been released from one cell to another, sometimes spending a week or more in detention before being released.


U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents keep watch at the Paso del Norte International Bridge. (Jose Luis Gonzalez / Reuters)

In El Paso, Immigration and Customs Enforcement releases about 2,100 people per week to Annunciation House, which works with refugee families and relatives in the United States. This rate has increased to a few months, leading to an increase in the number of families reliant on house migrant families.

Garcia said he was "living in equilibrium" by increasing Annunciation House's capacity to match the number of migrant families being detained in holding cells. His agency currently rents two El Paso motels at a cost of $ 38,000 a week to help meet increased demand.

"Our goal is to build up the practice of using these cells as temporary detention sites, where people are bunched up in ways that are very inappropriate and not healthy," he said.

Garcia said more space should also be taken to sleep on the Mexican side of the bridge as they await for asylum in the United States. Customs and Border Protection officers have been denying entry to would-be asylum seekers since spring. The increased numbers of people camping on the bridge, however, is something that has just started over the past couple of weeks.

Overnight temperatures in the El Paso-Juárez region regularly dip into the 40s this time of year.

Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman based in El Paso, said, "CBP facilities are currently under 72 hours except in rare, extenuating circumstances. It is a priority of our agency to process and transfer all of our custody to the appropriate longer-term detention agency as soon as possible. "

The cost of caring for the migrant families after their release is borne by churches and Annunciation House donors. The government no money to the effort.

Hundreds of volunteers have flocked to the past week, Garcia said.

"It's their commitment that I truly believe personifies what it means to be a citizen of the United States," he said.

CBP statistics show the apprehension at the 2017 levels, but still below the numbers seen in the 1990s and 2000s. The number of families apprehended, however, is at record levels, with 16,658 members of "family units" taken into custody in September at the southwest border.

Officials said 2,676 of those apprehensions came in the Border Patrol's El Paso sector. That was second only to the Rio Grande Valley, where 8,782 members of family units were apprehended.

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, said she was sheltering at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen summer.

"I'm accepting everybody that's being released. Border Patrol has been sent out in groups of over 500 so we can manage it as best we can, "Pimentel said.

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