Border Patrol agents dropped off more than 100 migrants at a downtown El Paso bus station on Sunday, the first time in more than three years that people have been released in El Paso without going to a non-governmental organization for food and shelter.
The release, which left migrants to fend for themselves finding food or getting plane or bus tickets to El Paso, is a warning to local governments that El Paso is unprepared for a possible crisis. humanitarian aid in the weeks to come,” said Ruben Garcia. , the founder of the House of the Annunciation, which has cared for migrants and refugees for more than 40 years.
The migrants were released around 5 a.m. on Sunday at the Tornado bus station on West Paisano Drive in downtown El Paso, said a person at the bus station, who asked not to be identified. At 9 a.m., there were only a dozen people left at the bus station, waiting for the buses that would arrive later in the day. Most of the people who were dropped off took taxis to the airport to get a plane ticket.
Among those who remained at the bus station was Cristian, who arrived at a US port of entry in El Paso on May 11. He is originally from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the sixth largest city in that country. Belo Horizonte is about 350 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. El Paso Matters only identifies migrants by first name as many are fleeing violence and fearing for their safety.
Cristian left his home in Brazil on May 8 to seek asylum in the United States.
“I have my bus ticket, I’m going to Florida where I have family,” he said in Portuguese. “I had enough money to buy my bus ticket, but now I have no money for the rest of the day, not even to eat.”
His one-way bus fare was $290.
Cristian’s bus was scheduled to leave El Paso for Houston at 10 p.m. Sunday. He will wait all day inside the bus station. He is due to arrive in Plant City, Florida on Monday evening.
“The good thing is that I’m traveling alone,” he said.
Migrants released from custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the El Paso area are typically taken to a shelter operated by the House of Annunciation, which works with churches and others to provide food and temporary housing until migrants can travel to join families elsewhere in the United States.
But when Annunciation House shelters are at capacity, federal agencies have in the past released migrants onto the streets, often near bus stations. Sunday was the first major release of migrants onto the streets of El Paso since Christmas week 2018, when hundreds were dropped off at the downtown Greyhound bus station.
The 2018 scene was chaotic. This release included many families with children, and shelters in El Paso were not prepared to help the hundreds of people released.
On Sunday, the output was relatively smooth. Most of the migrants came from Turkey, Haiti, Brazil and Peru, among other countries, according to a person helping them at the bus station.
Most of the migrants had mobile phones which they used to contact their family or buy a plane or bus ticket for their final destination.
Among those who went from the bus station to the airport was Frankel, 45. He entered El Paso from Juárez on Friday night. He lived in Chile but is originally from Haiti. He’s trying to get to Florida.
He said he was released on a “recognized release order”. ICE releases immigrants on recognizance on the condition that the person indicates where they are going, agrees to attend a hearing if necessary, and has a place to go.
“I don’t know why I was released, or when I have to go back to court,” he said.
Spokespersons for ICE and Border Patrol did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was unclear which agency released the migrants at the bus station.
El Paso County Commissioner David Stout said Sunday the county was notified late last week that releases would begin to occur because CBP detention and detention facilities were at capacity. He didn’t remember being told the releases would be on the streets and at 5 a.m. in downtown El Paso.
The county commissioners court is scheduled to discuss the CBP releases at a special meeting on Thursday.
“We’re looking to see how the county can meet the need to coordinate travel arrangements — whether it’s to the airport or the bus stop,” Stout said. “We want to make sure the county can act in an emergency situation.”
In recent weeks, a growing number of migrants have been released into a network of reception centers run by Annunciation House, a faith-based group that provides food and shelter and helps migrants make travel arrangements out of El Paso. The organization primarily works with churches in El Paso, Las Cruces Deming and Albuquerque to provide temporary shelter, Garcia said.
Border enforcement officials check with Garcia daily that many migrants can be released at Annunciation House. But Garcia said the capacity of reception centers is limited by a number of factors, in particular a shortage of volunteers and the inability of churches to welcome migrants on weekends as their facilities are needed for church services. .
He said on Sunday he told ICE that Annunciation House could accommodate 450 to 500 people on Monday. “As the weekdays move into weekends, when churches need their space for their religious activities, that capacity diminishes. So like today, Sunday, we were able to get 254,” Garcia said.
“They felt they had to release more refugees than we had the capacity to accommodate,” Garcia said of ICE and Border Patrol. “And that’s where you got your street exit.”
ICE can decide to detain migrants who have crossed the border without permission or release them with a notice to appear in immigration court. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, most of these migrants were immediately deported to Mexico or other countries under a provision of public health law known as Title 42.
Title 42 has been criticized by some members of Congress and human rights advocates as cruel and ineffective. The Biden administration announced plans to end Title 42 on May 23, but that action is being challenged in court.
Many Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, have urged Biden to pursue Title 42 lest an end to deportations push hundreds of thousands of migrants seeking to enter the United States in the coming months.
Garcia said Sunday’s release at the bus station went relatively well because it was for single adults only. Families are much more difficult to deal with and move due to the complexity of housing, feeding and finding transportation for multiple people in a group.
He said the city and county governments have not done enough to prepare for the possible release of large numbers of families onto the streets of El Paso in the coming weeks.
“So far, I have not seen any indication that the city or county has made the decision that we need to consider opening hospitality sites to complement the hospitality network (Annunciation House). And those sites , they’re not only going to have to find a venue, but then they’re going to have to staff that venue,” he said.
Garcia said the challenge was urgent.
“How can we get more capacity at the moment, if in the next four or five days, a day comes when (the immigration agencies) announce that they are releasing 200 people and they are all family units . What you encounter Downtown will be very different from what you encountered this morning,” he said.