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El Paso shelter network scrambles to house 1,200 migrants released over the weekend

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More than 1,200 migrants who crossed the border in Del Rio, Texas, were released from federal custody into El Paso between Thursday and Sunday, often with little warning, Annunciation House founder Ruben Garcia said during a press conference Monday.

“There isn’t a lot of advance notice,” Garcia said. He explained some of the challenges involved in sheltering the influx of migrants. “I got a call this morning telling me that today they were going to be releasing about 325 individuals. I didn’t know that last night, and so that’s what makes it very very difficult.”

Nine sites in the area are accommodating recently released migrants, including three “church-connected hospitality centers” in Las Cruces, two “church-connected hospitality centers” in El Paso, and four sites that Annunciation House directly oversees, Garcia said.

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The migrants released over the weekend were primarily families who already have a sponsor in the United States, Garcia said; 66% of those released were Haitian. The vast majority of those released from federal custody will leave the area within 24 to 48 hours of arriving at a local shelter; Garcia described it as a “quickly revolving process.”

Three migrants participated in the press conference Monday, all of whom had traveled into the United States with family members and spent time in the encampment at Del Rio prior to being transported to El Paso by U.S. immigration officials.

“When we arrived (to Del Rio), it was unbelievable,” said Jimmy, a 31-year-old Haitian man who asked that his last name not be published for fear of negative repercussions. “There were a lot of people. Since there were a lot of people, there was no space to sleep. We had to be on the ground, on cardboard.”

Jimmy, a migrant from Haiti, arrived in El Paso after crossing the border at Del Rio with his family. They were released from detention with monitoring and a court date. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Jimmy said that his family decided to leave Haiti because of the insecurity there, in search of a better future for their son. While in Del Rio, he heard of many instances of individuals and families with children who were expelled back to Haiti.

“It is terrible. They have gone through many things to get here. Bad things, the worst things, in the jungle. Difficult. And then arriving here, they are deported back to their city,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security launched a mass expulsion operation of Haitian individuals as part of efforts to clear out an encampment of thousands of people (primarily Haitians) underneath and near an international bridge between Del Rio and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday that approximately 4,000 Haitians had been expelled from the U.S. in the past two weeks under Title 42, a public health authority first employed during the Trump administration as a way to rapidly expel asylum seekers and other migrants at the border.

Haiti is among the poorest countries in the world and has been beset with political turmoil and catastrophic natural disasters in recent years.

Members of the media were given a tour of one of the Annunciation House sites on Monday, the mural-filled Casa Refugiado. The dining room was filled with Haitian families eating lunch. Hand-drawn signs adorned the walls with information about vaccines in several languages, including Haitian Creole.

Garcia said that every person who stays at Annunciation House is offered a COVID-19 vaccine, and every person is tested for COVID-19. Among the 1,203 people who arrived over the weekend, Garcia estimated that between 50 to 60 had tested positive for COVID-19 and had been placed in quarantine.

Several partner organizations have been helping with accommodating the needs of the migrants, including the Salvation Army, which has been providing meals; Project Amistad and Sun Metro, which have assisted in transportation; and the El Paso Office of Emergency Management, which has helped with COVID-19 testing.

Garcia emphasized that this effort has been entirely dependent on the help of volunteers, describing the long hours spent by some volunteers to ensure all migrants arriving had been tested for COVID-19.

“Their commitment, their willingness to work incredibly long hours, to pour themselves out is truly, truly admirable. For members of the El Paso community who ask what is it that we need, at the very top are volunteers,” Garcia said.

Information about volunteer opportunities is available on Annunciation House’ website

Corrie Boudreaux contributed reporting to this article.

Cover photo: Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks about the arrival of Haitians in El Paso during the last week. Some migrants have been released while others have been expelled to Haiti or Mexico. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. Her new album came out on Sister Polygon Records in September 2020, and she is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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