Alexandria and her husband Walter took turns rocking their 7-month-old son, combing back his thick, dark black hair as they waited to board a charter bus at the Welcome Center in South El Paso on Friday.
“He did great along the way, nothing more than a few bug bites and rashes,” Alexandria, 21, said of her son. The family left Peru, fleeing “rampant delinquency, violence, threats and lack of opportunities,” on July 15, and arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border on Sunday.
They were among a second group of migrants bused out of El Paso to New York by the El Paso City-County Office of Emergency Management this week. The first chartered bus left Tuesday with 35 Venezuelan migrants and arrived in New York Thursday. Busing is expected to continue as migrants arrive in increased numbers at the border, city officials said in a statement Thursday.
Busing migrants out of the region is the latest effort by city and county leaders to manage the growing number of asylum seekers from South America arriving at the border. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses OEM for the cost of transporting migrants out of El Paso, city officials said.
About 18 migrants from various countries boarded the bus Friday as officials awaited for more New York-bound migrants to possibly arrive.
Staff from the Office of Emergency Management loaded bags of food and emergency supplies onto the bus, but declined to comment about the latest charter effort and referred questions to the city’s spokesperson. The spokesperson hasn’t responded to requests for comment from El Paso Matters on the latest bus to go to New York.
About 50 migrants from various countries – including Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Turkey – were dropped off by border agents at the Welcome Center homeless shelter in South El Paso Friday morning, said John Martin, director of El Paso’s Opportunity Center for the Homeless.
About a third of the migrants were set to take the bus to New York, he said, while others had different destinations. A group of nonprofits and the OEM were working to make travel arrangements for them, though several would likely have to spend a few days at the shelter, Martin said.
Pamela, who traveled from Ecuador with her husband and their two young children, said being in the United States safely made their journey worthwhile. They won’t mind waiting in the El Paso shelter a few days before they head to Virginia to reunite with a cousin.
“All we want is opportunity. The opportunity to work hard and for our children to be safe,” she said, noting the numbered markings on the floor of the shelter’s main room while her children colored.
The numbers mark where migrants will be assigned to sleep on rubber mats or cots – each three feet apart, head to toe, Martin said. Black drapes hanging from metal piping separates the open area – one side for families and the other for single men.
The two-story 7,000-square-foot building, which has long housed a farmworker’s center, is undergoing some minor construction so that it can also serve as a homeless shelter. It has showers, a kitchen area where volunteers serve three to four meals a day, and a patio with trees, tables and chairs.
For the migrants’ arrival, the open room was lined with blue plastic chairs and folding metal chairs where migrants sat and awaited instructions.
Prior to boarding the bus bound to New York, Alexandria and Walter told of being robbed and threatened in Peru. The couple’s apartment, which was filled with fabrics, sewing machines and other equipment needed to make clothes they sold to make a living, was robbed.
“They took everything, trashed the place,” Alexandria said. When their story came out in the local paper, they were repeatedly threatened and harassed, she said.
“Then they started threatening to hurt us if we didn’t pay them,” she said. “We chose to take the risk of coming here rather than staying there.”
Walter said he knows not everyone in the United States will be welcoming but said he hopes they give migrants like his family a chance to prove themselves.
“We hope to turn the page, that every difficult moment we’ve had we can put behind us and just work hard to give our son a good life,” he said. “That’s the opportunity we want – to be able to work. We can take it from there.”