Now it is a refuge run by Catholic charities. Where there used to be rows of booze, there are now toiletries and diapers. Small children play on the floor. Colorful drawings hang from the blackened windows.
This center has become a haven of activity in recent weeks, as more families have crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico to seek asylum in the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials process the migrants and give them a court date, then drop them off at a bus station in downtown McAllen, just across the road from the Respite Center.
Although the number of families crossing paths a few years ago is far from close, the number has been increasing steadily since April. Migrants are being pushed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the devastation caused by two major hurricanes in Central America and a new US president.
Edwin Rubio and his family were dropped off at McAllen bus station on a Wednesday morning in early February. Rubio told CNN they decided to make the trip from Honduras to seek asylum after President Joe Biden was elected.
“There will be new laws, new immigration laws that will favor Latinos,” he said.
CBP officials had around 78,000 encounters with migrants at the southern border in January, up from around 72,000 in October, according to CBP reports. The vast majority of these encounters are single adults and are turned down. But the number of family units rose from 4,494 in December to 7,260 in January. Throughout the pandemic, the United States has pursued a public health policy of promptly deporting apprehended migrants. Quite recently, Mexico stopped accepting the return of certain families. A new law in Mexico, combined with social distancing in US detention centers, has created a lack of space for migrants, forcing CBP officials to release families inside the United States.
“It has long been a practice that when long-term detention solutions are not possible, some migrants will be treated to be returned, subject to an appearance notice, and released to the United States pending a future immigration hearing, “CBP said in a statement. “As the administration reviews the current immigration process, comparing it to the current pandemic, we will continue to use all current authorities to avoid keeping individuals in an ensemble indefinitely.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, who runs Catholic charities in the Rio Grande Valley, said she saw only a few migrants each day throughout the pandemic, but now sees 50 to 100 people a day.
She said the recent increase in the number of families and the policy of release in the United States created confusion and frustration among migrants who were waiting across the border for their court dates under the policy of the era of the Trump administration named Migrant. Protection protocols (MPP).
Thousands of migrants have been waiting months, or even more than a year, for their court date in poor conditions in Mexico. Seeing families crossing illegally and being released sent shock waves through those waiting, Pimentel said.
“It’s very confusing and they don’t understand that.” Why them first and not us. You know we’ve waited for this day here and then it doesn’t happen to us, “Pimentel said.” And I say, “Well, because things are happening,” and these families seem to intersect and there are changes that bring them in and that’s why. But it’s not because you’re neglected or that you’re not counted. It’s just a matter of waiting for the right moment. ”
The Biden administration has announced that it will soon begin processing pending MPP applicants in Mexico. The initial phase will apply to around 25,000 migrants.
In the meantime, communities along the Texas border have expressed concern over the release of migrants during the pandemic. McAllen requested thousands of Covid-19 tests from state officials last month after learning migrants were not being tested by CBP.
“Drop them off at our bus station without testing them first? I think it’s irresponsible not just for the border but for the whole of the United States,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said.
The city has received 6,000 tests, which are administered by Catholic charities. If the migrants test positive, the organization will help them self-quarantine at a local hotel. In early February, no one had come forward with a positive test, according to Catholic Charities.
In San Diego, there has also been an increase in the number of asylum seekers in recent weeks, according to Kate Clark, senior director of immigration services at the Jewish Family Service. The organization works with the county to help asylum seekers quarantine themselves in hotels for 14 days, then help migrants get to their final destination.
She said they had particularly seen an increase in the number of families from Haiti. This includes two parents who requested to be called Faya and Dhoul. Faya said they didn’t care who was president but desperately wanted to escape what they described as criminals threatening to kill them in Haiti.
“I left my country for a reason. They tried to kill me twice,” Faya said in quarantine from a hotel room in San Diego. “We have decided to leave my country to save my life and that of my family.”
Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.
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