EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Along the U.S. southern border, two cities — El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez in Mexico — braced for a surge of up to 5,000 new migrants a day on Sunday as pandemic-era immigration restrictions eased run out here week to get plans underway for emergency shelter, food and other essentials.
On the Mexico side of the international border, only piles of discarded clothes, shoes and backpacks remained on the banks of the Rio Grande Sunday morning, where until a few days ago hundreds of people queued to report to US officials. A young man from Ecuador stood uncertainly on the Mexican side; He asked two journalists if they knew anything about what would happen if he turned himself in without a sponsor in the US, then carefully removed his sneakers and socks and hopped across the low water.
On the American side, at a small fence guarded by several Border Patrol vehicles, he joined a line of a dozen people who were waiting with no US officials in sight.
El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego told The Associated Press on Sunday that the region, which is home to one of the busiest border crossings in the country, is coordinating housing and resettlement efforts with groups, other cities, and the state and federal governments calls for humanitarian aid. The area is bracing for an onslaught of new arrivals that could double their daily numbers once Title 42 of the Public Health Ordinance ends on Wednesday.
The rule has been used to stop more than 2.5 million migrants from crossing since March 2020.
At a migrant shelter near the river in a poor neighborhood of Ciudad Juárez, Carmen Aros, 31, knew little about US politics. In fact, she said she heard the border could close on December 21.
She fled cartel violence in the Mexican state of Zacatecas a month ago, shortly after her fifth daughter was born and her husband disappeared. The Methodist pastor who runs the Buen Samaritano animal shelter put her on a list to be released to the United States, and she waits to be called every week.
“They told me there was asylum in Juarez, but the truth was I didn’t know much,” she said from the bunk bed she shared with the girls. “We’ve gotten here … and now we want to see if the United States government can solve our case.”
At a huge Mexican government emergency shelter in a former factory in Ciudad Juárez, dozens of migrants watched Sunday’s World Cup final on two TVs while a medical team from El Paso treated many who had contracted respiratory illnesses in the cold weather.
Ever-changing guidelines make planning difficult, said Dylan Corbett, director of the Hope Border Institute, a Catholic organization that helps migrants in El Paso and Juarez. The group founded the clinic two months ago.
“You have a lot of pent-up pain,” Corbett said. “I’m scared of what’s going to happen.” With government policy in disarray, “most of the work falls to the faith communities to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath.”
Just a few blocks across the border, sleet fell in El Paso as about 80 huddled migrants ate tacos that volunteers had grilled. Temperatures in the region should drop below freezing this week.
“We will give them as much as we have,” said Veronica Castorena, who with her husband brought tortillas and ground beef, as well as blankets for those likely to sleep on the street.
Jeff Petion, the owner of a trucking school in the city, said this is his second time coming with staff to help migrants on the road. “They’re out here, they’re cold, they’re hungry, so we wanted to let them know they’re not alone.
But opposite Petion, Kathy Countiss, a retiree, said she was concerned the newcomers to El Paso would spiral out of control, draining resources and diverting enforcement away from criminals to those seeking asylum.
On SaturdayEl Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser issued a declaration of emergency to access additional local and state resources to build emergency shelters and other much-needed assistance.
Samaniego, the district judge, said the order came a day after El Paso officials sent Texas Gov. Greg Abbott a letter asking for humanitarian assistance to the area, adding that the request for Resources to care for and resettle the newly arriving migrants, not additional security forces.
Samaniego said he has not received a response to the request and plans to issue a similar statewide emergency statement detailing the type of assistance the area will need if the city does not receive government aid soon. He called on state and federal governments to provide the extra money, adding they have a strategy but lack financial, essential and voluntary resources.
El Paso officials have been coordinating with organizations to temporarily house and obtain sponsors for migrants while they are being processed and to relocate them to larger cities where they can be flown or bused to their final destinations, Samaniego said. Starting Wednesday, they will combine all their forces in a centralized emergency command center, Samaniego said, similar to their approach to the COVID-19 emergency.
Abbott, El Paso city officials and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to requests for comment Sunday.
Abbott has committed billions of dollars to “Operation Lone Star,” an unprecedented border security effort that will involve the transportation of migrants to so-called safe haven cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, DC, as well as a massive presence of state troops and National Guard along the Texas-Texas border Mexico.
Additionally, the Republican governor of Texas has spurred continued efforts to build former President Donald Trump’s wall, using mostly private land along the border and crowdsourcing funds to help fund it.
As recently as March, El Paso was the fifth busiest of the Border Patrol’s nine sectors along the Mexican border, and in October it suddenly became by far the most popular, overtaking Del Rio, Texas, which had itself replaced Texas’ Rio Grande Valley as the busiest corridor late last year lightning fast. It’s unclear why El Paso has become such a powerful magnet in recent months, attracting particularly large numbers of migrants since September.
Recent illegal crossings in El Paso — initially largely dominated by Venezuelans and more recently by Nicaraguans — are reminiscent of a brief period in 2019 when the westernmost reaches of Texas and the eastern end of New Mexico were rapidly being inundated with newcomers from Cuba and Central America became America. For years, El Paso was a relatively sleepy area for illegal crossings.
Meanwhile, a group of about 300 migrants began walking north from an area near the Mexico-Guatemalan border Saturday night before being stopped by Mexican authorities. Some wanted to enter on December 21, under the mistaken assumption that they would no longer be able to apply for asylum once the measure ended. Misinformation about US immigration regulations is often rife among migrants. The group was made up largely of Central Americans and Venezuelans who had crossed the southern border into Mexico and awaited in vain transit or exit visas, forms of migration that might have allowed them to cross through Mexico to the US border.
“We want to get to the United States as soon as possible before they close the border, so we’re concerned,” said Venezuelan migrant Erick Martínez.
Coronado reported from Austin, Texas. Associated Press reporter Edgar H. Clemente of Tapachula, Mexico, contributed to this report.
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