Shelters And City Governments Scramble To Help Migrants In The Rio Grande Valley | Texas Public Radio

Shelters And City Governments Scramble To Help Migrants In The Rio Grande Valley

Apr 7, 2019
Originally published on September 5, 2019 8:42 am

More than 76,000 people were apprehended or surrendered on the Southern border in February and administration officials project that number would surpass 100,000 for March.

The highest number of crossings are taking place in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.

The Good Neighbor Settlement House, a homeless shelter in Brownsville, Texas, is now also being used to house migrants released from U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody. They normally help a couple dozen migrants a day, but recently the numbers shot up to more than 400 a day.

We don't intend to back off of the mission we embrace. They can keep sending them, we're going to serve them. - Jack White, director, Good Neighbor Settlement House

The migrants are brought here for a short period of time and can shower, eat and get some clean clothes. Volunteers help migrants work out travel arrangements so they can meet up with relatives or sponsors in other parts of the country while they await their day in immigration court.

All along the Texas border, cities are dealing with an unprecedented influx of migrants.

Migrants line up inside Good Neighborhood Settlement House in Brownsville, Texas, as they are about to board a vehicle and head to a local airport.
Reynaldo Leanos Jr. / Texas Public Radio

The shelter started their Refugee Respite Program in August at the request of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Jack White, the director of Good Neighbor, says he's recently seen a spike in numbers and they are no longer receiving advance notice from CBP when migrants are being released.

Still, White says, they're dealing with it.

"Will it be hard?" asked White. "Yes, but we don't intend to back off of the mission we embrace. They can keep sending them, we're going to serve them."

Migrants usually arrive at the shelter with some documentation about relatives or sponsors to contact to arrange shelter while they await their immigration court proceedings — that wait can take months, even years, because of the huge backlog of cases.

But Marianela Ramirez-Watson, the director for the Refugee Respite Program, says last weekend they ran into a new problem.

"A group of people showed up without their paperwork and so the minute we caught it we called CBP and they said, 'Oh my gosh, they weren't supposed to send that bus yet,' " said Ramirez-Watson. "Some confusion when you're dealing with as many people as they are."

While local organizations, like Good Neighbor, handle the releases, the Trump administration continues to call on Congress to change immigration laws to stave off what they consider a national emergency at the border.

But César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández says the real crisis isn't with people asking for asylum, it's with the immigration system itself.

García Hernández is an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and a Rio Grande Valley native. He said it's important to point out that this administration has already made some changes in an effort to limit the number of asylum-seekers.

"[In the past] a person could make a claim, a successful claim for asylum based on abuse by a violent spouse. Or because of violence being inflicted by the gangs that are destabilizing much of Central America," said García Hernández. "The Trump administration has made it almost impossible to make those claims."

Still, the asylum-seekers keep coming.

As Good Neighbor braces for more, Brownsville's mayor, Tony Martinez, said his city has adapted to the challenge pretty well. Martinez said CBP said to expect nearly 6,000 migrants across the Rio Grande Valley this week.

"I've been in situations where there is no way to control something, whether it's a health problem, or otherwise, and you really feel helpless and overwhelmed and you're at your wits' ends," said Martinez. "Here, because of the community coming together, we lift each other's heart to meet the occasion."

Meanwhile, CBP announced Thursday that construction of 13 miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley will begin this month.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And now back to the border. According to the most recent U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics, more than 76,000 people were apprehended on the southern border in February. Administration officials have projected that number will surpass 100,000 for March. The highest number of crossings are taking place in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. One shelter in Brownsville that normally helps a couple dozen migrants a day recently saw their numbers spike up to 400 or more daily. Texas Public Radio's Reynaldo Leanos Jr. reports.

REYNALDO LEANOS JR, BYLINE: Marisela Almeida is the volunteer coordinator at Good Neighbor Settlement House in Brownsville, a shelter that helps the homeless, which is now also being used to house migrants released from CBP custody.

LEANOS: This is airport right here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: How many do we have?

MARISELA ALMEIDA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

LEANOS: The migrants are brought here for a short period of time and can shower, eat and get some clean clothes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Do you have another (unintelligible) going?

LEANOS: Almeida is lining up people and putting them on a bus headed to the Brownsville airport so they can go to their next destination and await their day in immigration court. All along the Texas border, cities are dealing with an unprecedented influx of migrants. Jack White is the director of Good Neighbor. They started their Refugee Respite Program back in August at the request of Catholic Charities RGV. Back then, their numbers were small. But White says he's recently seen hundreds of people every day and didn't receive an advance notice of releases. But he says they're dealing with it.

JACK WHITE: Will it be hard? Yes. But we don't intend to back off of the mission we've embraced, so they can keep sending them. We're going to serve them.

LEANOS: Migrants usually arrive at the shelter with some documentation showing if they have relatives or sponsors to contact to arrange shelter while they wait their immigration court proceedings. The wait can take months, even years because of the huge backlog of cases. Marianela Ramirez-Watson is the director for the Refugee Respite Program at Good Neighbor. She says last weekend, they ran into a new problem.

MARIANELA RAMIREZ-WATSON: A group of people showed up without their paperwork. And so the minute we caught it, we called CBP. And they said, oh, my gosh, we weren't supposed to send that bus yet. Some - you know, a little confusion when you're dealing with as many people as they are.

LEANOS: While local organizations like Good Neighbor handle the releases, the Trump administration continues to call on Congress to change immigration laws to stave off what they consider a national emergency at the border. But Cesar Cuauhtemoc Garcia Hernandez says the real crisis isn't with the people asking for asylum. Rather, it's with the immigration law system. Garcia Hernandez is an associate professor of law at the University of Denver and a Valley native. Garcia Hernandez says it's important to point out that this administration has already made changes in an effort to limit the number of asylum-seekers.

CESAR CUAUHTEMOC GARCIA HERNANDEZ: A person can make a claim - a successful claim for asylum based on abuse by a violent spouse or because of violence being inflicted by the gangs that are destabilizing much of Central America. The Trump administration has made it almost impossible to make those claims.

LEANOS: Still, asylum-seekers keep coming. As Good Neighbor braces for more, Brownsville's mayor, Tony Martinez, says his city has adapted to the challenge pretty well. He said CBP said to expect close to 6,000 migrants across the Rio Grande Valley.

TONY MARTINEZ: I've been in situations where, you know, there is no way to control something, whether it's a health problem or otherwise. And you really feel helpless and overwhelmed. And you're at your wits' end. Here, because of the community coming together, we kind of lift each other's spirits and lift each other's hearts to meet the occasion.

LEANOS: Meanwhile, CBP announced Thursday that construction of 13 miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley will begin this month. For NPR News, I'm Reynaldo Leanos Jr. in Brownsville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.