Annunciation House's Casa del Refugiado hospitality center provides temporary shelter for migrants crossing the border. (René Kladzyk/El Paso Matters)

El Paso and other border cities will begin receiving migrants from the Rio Grande Valley on Monday for processing, Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso, said. 

Rep. Veronica Escobar

“What we are seeing is families continue to arrive at our nation’s front door and the only difference today than a year ago … is the pandemic, and so we have to make sure that we process people not just humanely, but that we do it safely,” she said, criticizing Gov. Greg Abbott’s refusal of federal funds for migrant COVID-19 testing. 

Plans are in place for each migrant to be tested and quarantined if they test positive, Escobar said, noting that she has been in close communication with the Department of Homeland Security in order to assure the safety of the El Paso community and the refugees.

Two flights will arrive in El Paso per day beginning Monday, each carrying 135 migrants, said Ruben Garcia of Annunciation House, which will provide temporary housing for the migrants.  A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said migrants also will be moved from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo and Del Rio, but didn’t specify how many migrants would be moved each day.  

“They are overwhelmingly family units and there is a preponderance of families from the Northern Triangle of Central America: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala,” Garcia said. 

Refugees will be processed after arriving in El Paso and then stay at Annunciation House until they have made arrangements to travel to family in the United States. Garcia said that 98 percent of refugees will only stay at Annunciation House for a couple days before leaving the area.

During a similar effort in 2014, planes brought 270 migrants per day from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso.

Transportation of migrants via plane and bus for Customs and Border Protection processing has been carried out in previous years as a way to help overwhelmed border locations that are stretched beyond their capacity.

A CBP spokesperson emphasized that the agency continues to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“CBP is making every effort to … mitigate long periods of processing and holding to minimize potential exposure to our workforce, those in custody, and the community,” he said.

Garcia said that Annunciation House is prepared to handle the new influx of migrants, but that a lack of advance notice can be challenging. 

“Annunciation House is always receiving refugees and we’re going to continue to receive them. The challenging part for us is having to ramp up from one day to the other — if you were our fairy godmother I would ask, give me more advance notice so we have more time to prepare. But it is what it is,” Garcia said.

Annunciation House is seeking volunteers who have previously worked with the organization.

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks at a Feb. 28 press conference about the shelter’s preparations to receive asylum seekers enrolled in Migrant Protection Protocols. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Garcia said that only COVID negative migrants will stay at Annunciation House. COVID positive refugees will be taken to hotels that the city’s Office of Emergency Management is using for quarantining.

But in the context of a global pandemic, the governor’s rejection of federal funds has prompted the Biden administration to think through “creative ways” of supporting border communities, Escobar said. 

“What we face in Texas is a governor intent on blocking that money. He has refused FEMA’s assistance … and instead demonized migrants. He is using this as a political opportunity for himself,” Escobar said. “It’s pretty reprehensible and unbelievable.”

Escobar said she plans to send the Texas governor a letter today, urging him to accept federal funds in order to promote the safety of migrants and border communities like El Paso. 

Cover photo: Annunciation House’s Casa del Refugiado hospitality center provides temporary shelter for migrants crossing the border. (René Kladzyk/El Paso Matters)

Correction: U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar said migrants were being flown from the Rio Grande Valley to El Paso for processing. An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed specific information about the flights to her.

René Kladzyk is a freelance reporter who also performs music as Ziemba. Follow her on Twitter @ziembavision.