EL PASO, Texas – U.S. cities bordering Mexico are preparing for a surge in migrants as a pandemic-era policy is set to end Thursday. U.S. officials say they expect to see more than 10,000 migrants cross into the U.S. each day.
At Rescue Mission of El Paso, marketing director Nicole Reulet says the number of migrants downtown is the most she’s ever seen in the city.
The shelter is a mile away from the epicenter of the migrant crisis in the city at Sacred Heart Church, where hundreds of migrants sleep on the sidewalks. At the shelter itself, they have expanded into another building to prepare for the surge in migrants. One of their buildings holds 180 families and the other building holds 75 single male and females. Their biggest obstacle has been staffing, but the Red Cross has come to volunteer with the influx of people.
At the newly opened shelter run by the Red Cross, Venezuelan migrant Ivana and Brazilian migrant Carlos are nicknamed Tarzan and Jane.
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“We met in the course of the jungle,” Ivana says through laughs.
It took Carlos 8 months to make it to El Paso from Brazil where he says he was escaping the mafia.
“If I have to go back to my country, I will kill myself,” Carlos said.
The months of travel to the U.S. are brutal. Carlos says the most difficult part of the journey is crossing through Mexico, not the jungle. He says people steal from you, take you away and rape women. One of their phones was stolen while traveling in Mexico.
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In Venezuela, Ivana was scraping by as a school teacher.
“A professional teacher from a university or public school makes around 5 dollars a month,” Ivana said. That’s in comparison to a packet of arepas that costs $3 she says.
Ivana’s mother and 8-year-old sister made it to Chicago and are staying in a shelter there. Once Carlos and Ivana have enough money they will meet her family in Chicago. They have papers and an appointment with immigration services at the end of the month, but they are trying to find work to pay for the trip to Chicago.
In downtown El Paso, migrants make makeshift tents to hide from the Texas heat. Hundreds line the walls of Sacred Heart Church waiting for work, a ride or other people. Many say they would leave for another city as soon as they are able to come up with money for transportation.
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More migrants are expected when title 42 is lifted Thursday. The policy made it easier to expel migrants because of the threat of covid-19. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Removal Operations will transition to enforcing immigration laws under Title 8.
“We kind of know to expect a big surge, but even then we don’t know what that’s going to look like,” Reulet, with Rescue Mission of El Paso, said about the anticipation of more people.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser said the city declared a state of emergency in preparation. They are prepared to open two schools and the civic center if needed for asylum seekers. While Texas Governor Greg Abbott has criticized the Biden administration for not doing enough to stop the influx of migrants, Leeser thanks the federal government for assisting the city in what they need.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz says from Friday to Monday they caught more than 26,000 migrants, while more than 7,000 got away.
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Governor Abbott deployed 200 more national guardsmen to El Paso to prevent illegal border crossings on Monday.
“America is not open to people who are trying to come here illegally,” Abbott said.
Starting Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and officers will conduct a targeted enforcement operation in El Paso, but not near a location that would prevent people from getting essential services. The Border Patrol union criticized this move saying it tells people where to hide and avoid arrest.