EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Joyden Padilla sits over a blanket on the floor of a crowded building at South Oregon and Ninth streets holding on to his restless 8-month-old daughter and wondering when he’ll get out of El Paso.
U.S. immigration officials released the Venezuelan asylum seeker, his wife and the baby earlier this week on a promise to show up in federal immigration court in 2024.
“I have my appointment in New York in six months. We have relatives there who can help us, but not today. We have to wait for them to have money and send it to us,” Padilla said. “If they (come up with the money), I will be buying a ticket Saturday, Sunday or maybe Monday.”
The Opportunity Center’s Welcome Center in South El Paso has been over capacity for the past several days. That’s partly because more migrants are crossing the border and partly because many who are released by federal immigration authorities don’t have the means to buy an airplane or bus ticket to their destination, said John Martin, deputy director of the Opportunity Center.
“All of us are working at overcapacity,” said Martin, referring to three organizations – the Opportunity Center, Sacred Heart Church and the Rescue Mission – that make up El Paso’s Downtown shelter network. “What we are seeing is individuals that require longer stays […] We are still seeing a large influx, we are seeing people on their way, but we are dealing with the residual, those who need additional time due to lack of financial resources or that their sponsorship fell through.”
A third factor is that El Paso has become a regional hub for processing migrants flown in from other border cities. The increase in encounters and the “lateral flights” have swelled the population at U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facilities in El Paso above 4,000, according to the City of El Paso’s online migrant dashboard.
Martin and others who assist migrants in need of shelter, food and other resources are calling on government officials to come up with “additional beds” to prevent released families and individuals from sleeping on the streets if the number of people crossing the border continues to increase. El Paso’s triple-digit weather could prove too much of a hardship for foreign nationals not used to the climate, they said.
County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said he is aware of the issue and has called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for help. County and city officials also have come up with a plan to provide those additional beds nonprofit shelter operators are calling for.
“At this time, the city is looking to buy Morehead (Middle School) and the county is looking to buy Bassett (Middle School),” Samaniego said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency “cannot help you buy a building, but they can help you remodel it. Both the city and ourselves are looking at that possibility.”
Samaniego concurs that the lateral flights, the change in demographics and the release of unsponsored migrants has led to local shelters becoming overcrowded.
“We’ve always had high numbers of male adults and sometimes females, but the family units are catching up and that makes it more difficult […] It’s a lot easier to accommodate a single male or female and get a sponsor and put them on a bus than it is to get a family unit,” the county judge said. “I’ve been able to talk to Secretary Mayorkas, they are aware of it and are trying to figure out what kind of funding they can get us to address the situation.”
He said the region’s migrant challenges remain considerable, but thanked the extensive network of nonprofit organizations that constantly step in to help.
Samaniego said the county government primarily has provided logistical support so migrants can arrange their own transportation out of town while the city has focused on emergency overnight accommodations. He said it’s time for the county to assist with sheltering in addition to travel processing.
His main concern is the vulnerability of released migrants who linger too long in El Paso without resources.
“When the process is delayed, that’s when they are most vulnerable; the migrants know it and would rather avoid too much of that situation,” Samaniego said. “When we’ve had too many people on the streets, even at Sacred Heart, we would find cars stopping by and offering rides. Most likely it was the cartel. That’s what keeps me up at night, what happens once the process slows down.”
Venezuelan migrant Padilla said his family has already dealt with too many dangers in Mexico to think about prolonged hardship in El Paso.
“Mexico is hard. You hear about the kidnapping, rapes and the police and immigration offend you, mistreat you. In Chihuahua, (Mexican immigration) got us off a train and told us to walk the rest of the way (to the border). They said it was not their problem,” he said.