Shelter organizers in the west Texas border city of El Paso are struggling to open capacity for children crossing into the U.S. alone from Mexico, as a wave of unaccompanied minors has faced with a shortage of facilities in the ongoing pandemic.
The migrants, primarily unaccompanied children or family groups, are now being transferred by the federal government from the Rio Grande Valley in southeastern Texas to El Paso in an attempt to deal with the situation.
The Biden administration has refused to call it a crisis, but on Saturday sparked the involvement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema). On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi referred to a “humanitarian challenge.”
However, as of early Monday morning, neither El Paso city authorities nor Annunciation House, the nonprofit organization at the forefront of serving migrants in the area, had been notified of any federal aid to West Texas.
Annunciation House announced during the last week of February that they would receive 25 adult migrants a week from Juárez, the sister city of El Paso directly across the border from Mexico.
The migrants were part of the Trump administration’s Stay in Mexico (MPP) policy, which has been rescinded by the Biden administration.
Rubén García, director of Annunciation House, said they now see between 60 and 70 migrants a day being released from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), the federal agencies.
“If you had asked me three or four months ago, the numbers would have been 15 [migrants] per week that we were watching, ”he said.
In less than a week, the numbers rose dramatically, as Annunciation House confirmed that it would receive hundreds of migrants a day from the now-terminated Remain in Mexico program.
The Biden administration confirmed to a local news outlet, which was later confirmed by CBP, that two daily flights would arrive in El Paso, each carrying 135 migrants.
The flights come from the Rio Grande Valley, an area that is experiencing its own increase, but due to Covid-19 protocols, officials hope to spread the burden of dealing with the influx across the state.
“Annunciation House is preparing to receive more refugees this week than we expected,” the nonprofit organization posted on Twitter, asking for volunteers.
However, the nonprofit organization only accepts single adults and family units. Migrant children cannot be released from federal custody without an adult sponsor, leaving thousands more children in federal custody than is recommended.
The most recent data revealed that more than 4,200 unaccompanied migrant children were now in United States custody, but only 500 beds were available, the Associated Press said. reporting that hundreds were huddled in tents, some sleeping on the ground and waiting five days to shower.
On Sunday, El Paso congresswoman Verónica Escobar admitted that the situation was unacceptable, blaming the harsh and failed policies of Donald Trump.
Meanwhile, an additional facility in western El Paso seeks to address part of the problem. What was once the SunRidge at the Desert Springs Alzheimer’s care facility is reportedly being hastily converted into a shelter for unaccompanied children.
Confirmation was difficult, but a construction worker handed a card to an ABC-7 reporter which read: “For the safety and privacy of the children being served, requests from the media and other public inquiries regarding this operation should be sent to: US Department of Health and Human Services – Administration for Children and Families “.
Unaccompanied children crossing the border are supposed to be handed over to an adult sponsor in the United States in a short time, while their immigration cases are being evaluated.
But a Trump-era policy checked sponsors who showed up to foster minors, and all members of their household, and allowed their arrest if they were undocumented, dissuading many from showing up and chilling the system, leaving children caught in detention.
Joe Biden agreed to end that policy last Friday.
Dylan Corbett, founding director of the Hope Border Institute in El Paso and Juárez, a grassroots Catholic advocacy group, explained why more migrant children cross the border alone.
“The pandemic, plus the climate crisis, hurricanes, have already seen an increase in unaccompanied minors arriving at the border,” Corbett explained.
“The other thing the pandemic has done is put real pressure on governments and budgets in these countries, like Guatemala, in the middle of a pandemic where there is a lot of unemployment, the legislature voted in favor of nutritional cuts.”
In Texas, meanwhile, the allegations have started as the state’s Republican governor now blames Biden for the new increase.
“The Biden administration is recklessly releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants who have Covid in Texas communities,” Greg Abbott tweeted savagely.
Garcia said at a press conference in late February that all migrants would have to be tested for Covid-19 in Mexico and have negative results before entering El Paso. Those tests are being administered by the Mexican government.
Annunciation House confirmed that nine migrants have tested positive since arriving in El Paso from the Rio Grande Valley in the last influx and has a separate network of quarantine locations.
The U.S. Border Patrol is screening migrants who show symptoms of coronavirus.
Abbott visited the border last Tuesday, and also claimed that the Biden administration was not providing vaccines to border patrol agents who “risk their lives every day.”
Roger Maier, CBP spokesman for El Paso, said: “CBP employees currently receive vaccines from a variety of sources, including federal providers such as VA [Department of Veterans Affairs]. “
Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security announced a mass vaccination clinic specifically for border patrol agents.
Meanwhile, Texas Democrats insist that Abbott has refused to receive federal funding.
“Governor Abbott’s fear of asylum seekers and Covid-19 rings hollow when he is the one standing in the way of federal resources that will keep everyone safe.” Escobar tweeted.
She and her fellow Democrats wrote to Abbott urging him to accept Fema’s help in testing and quarantining migrants in El Paso.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism